THIS RETIREE ACTIVITIES OFFICE BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES
Pg Article Subject
. * DOD * .
04 == DoD HIV Policy —- (Lawsuit to Overturn Military’s Deployment Concern)
05 == Navy Maintenance Struggle —- (Attack Sub Boise Overhaul to Begin after 5 Year Sideline)
06 == Arlington National Cemetery  —- (Proposed Rule Change Excludes More Vets, Service Members)
07 == Chemical Weapons  —- (Mustard Agent Projectile Destruction Ahead of Schedule)
08 == NDAA 2021  —- (How It Could Improve TRICARE Coverage)
09 == DoD Pharmacy Program  —- (ATM Style Dispenser Coming)
10 == DoD CATCH Program —- (Still Available Amid Covid-19 Pandemic)
11 == Military ID Card Requests  —- (Pandemic Temporary Policy Change USID, CAC, & VOLAC Cards)
12 == POW/MIA  —- (Jerome V. Hummel | Remains Identified After 70 Years)
12 == POW/MIA Recoveries & Burials —- (Reported 16 thru 30 SEP 2020 | Eight)
. * VA * .
14 == Burn Pit Toxic Exposure  —- (VA Still Denies 78% of Vet Claims after 20 Years of War)
16 == VA Blue Water Claims  —- (Vietnam Deck Log Digitalization Project Completed)
16 == VA Home Loan Guaranty  —- (COVID-19 Regulatory Relief)
17 == VA Debt  —- (Relief Offered to Veterans Impacted by Natural Disasters)
17 == VA Appointments  —- (Wilke to Vets — Hang in There for In-Person Care)
18 == VA Chronic Wound Care —- (VA Researcher Develops ‘Smart Bandage’ Technology)
19 == VA Covid-19 Care  —- (VA Aims to Validate Effective Treatments through New Initiative)
21== VA Covid-19 Cases  —- (Decline Ends with 7% Spike)
21 == VA Alcohol Misuse Care —- (Fecal Transplant Helps Alcohol Cravings)
23 == Flu Shots  —- (Where & How to Get Them)
23 == GI Bill Modernization —- (Digitize Education & Housing Benefits Administration)
24 == VA C&P Exams  —- (All Exam Locations Now Open)
25 == VA Telehealth Program  —- (Veteran Access Expanded with iPad Services)
26 == VA Disaster Resources —- (Available to Veterans)
27 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse —- (Reported 16 thru 30 SEP 2020)
. * VETS * .
31 == Covid-19 Vet Impact —- (8 Ways Veterans are Particularly at Risk)
32 == Vet Burial Plans  —- (How to Obtain a Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility)
34 == MOH License Plate —- (Someone Stole Leroy Petry’)
35 == Military Retiree ID Card  —- (New Cards More Durable and Resemble CACs)
36 == Korean War Vet —- (Donald M. Griffith | Chosin Reservoir Survivor)
37 == WWI Vets 11 —- (Louis W. Miles | MOH Awardee Takes Enemy Trench at Age 45)
39 == WWI Vets 12 —- (Eugene Jacques Bullard | World’s First Black Fighter Pilot)
40 == Vietnam Vets 44 —- (David Harker | Recalls His Time as POW)
43 == Military Retirees & Veterans Events Schedule —- (As of 30 SEP 2020)
44 == Vet Hiring Fairs —- (Scheduled as of SEP 2020)
45 == Veteran State Benefits —- (Pennsylvania 2020)
. * VET LEGISLATION * .
45 == Burn Pit Toxic Exposure  —- (S.4572//H.R.7596 | Presumptive Benefits for War Fighter’s Illnesses)
47 == Military Sexual Harassment/Assault  —- (H.R.8270 | Improve DOD Responses to Sex-Related Offenses)
48 == Servicemembers Lease Protections  —- (S.4566 | Modernizing Notice of Lease Terminations)
48 == Suicide Prevention Legislation —- (Lawmakers Take Major Step to Advance Package of Bills)
50 == Military Survivor Benefits  —- (S.4594 | Caring for the Survivors & Families of Veterans Act of 2020)
50 == House Vet Bill Progress —- (16 thru 30 SEP 2020)
51 == Senate Vet Bill Progress —- (16 thru 30 SEP 2020)
. * MILITARY* .
52 == Military Absentee Voting —- (How to Register and Vote)
54 == Army Punishment —- (Push-Ups, PT Okayed as Punishment for Minor Infractions)
55 == Election 2020 —- (Candidate’s Military/Veteran Plans)
57 == USMC Maternity Leave —- (12 Weeks Not Enough – More Sought)
58 == Marine Corps Boot Camp  —- (Closing/Relocation Plan under Consideration)
60 == USSF  —- (Upcoming 1st Birthday Will Unveil a Slew of Decisions)
61 == USCG Sea Pay —- (New Fiscal 2021 Rates)
62 == Military Children U.S. Citizenship —- (New Law Makes it Automatic for Those Under 18)
62 == Military Working Dogs  —- (Call for U.S. Bred Dogs Grows to End ‘Outsourced’ Security)
64 == USS Grenadier (SS-210) —- (77 Year Old Wreck Discovered)
66 == Navy RAO Program  —- (How to Locate Offices for Services)
66 == Navy Terminology, Jargon & Slang —- (‘Oil King’ thru ‘Oh Dark Thirty’)
. * MILITARY HISTORY * .
67 == WWII Hell Ships —- (Japanese Transporters of POWs and Slave Laborers)
68 == Normandy Airborne Assault —- (The 82nd and 101st Airborne on D-Day)
69 == WWII Operation Drumbeat —- (Nazi Submarines Brought the Fight to Florida)
71 == WWII Bomber Nose Art  —- (Night Mission)
71 == Military History Anniversaries —- (01 thru 15 OCT)
71 == Navy Coffee —- (Why WWII Navy Veterans Added Salt to It)
72 == WWII Photos —- (Iron Cross Awardees)
73 == Medal of Honor Citations —- (William E. Adams | Vietnam)
. * HEALTH CARE * .
74 == MHS GENESIS —- (Using Patient Portal for COVID-19 Concerns)
76 == Smoking  —- (Study of Effects on Therapeutic Stem Cells)
77 == Dementia  —- (PTSD Doubles Likelihood of Having It in Later Life)
78 == Headaches  —- (DVBIC Study Focuses on Concussion-Related)
79 == Microwave Injury —- (Injury Awareness Tool)
80 == Dental Care  —- (New Treatment Halts Tooth Decay with No Drilling)
81 == Drug Cost Increases  —- (Sen. Bernie Sanders Blasts AstraZeneca for Raising Prices)
83 == Coronavirus SITREP 13 —- (Covid-19 Real Stats)
85 == Covid-19 Fake Cures  —- (Intravenous Vitamin C)
86 == Covid-19 Headgear  —- (Television Commercial for Zshield Face Shields Criticized)
97 == Coronavirus Vaccine  —- (Army’s May Produce a Side Benefit: Cure for the Common Cold)
. * FINANCES * .
88 == Vet COLA 2021  —- (Will See Same COLA Boost as Social Security Beneficiaries)
89 == SSA Changes  —- (Biden/Trump Plans & Potential Impact)
90 == SSA COLA 2021 —- (Inflation Adjustment ~1.3%)
91 == Prescription Drug Costs  —- (Trump Signs New Executive Order on Prices)
92 == Tax Forms 2020 —- (What Retirees Need to Know about the New IRS 2020 W-4)
93 == Online Shopper Scam —- (Shoppers Expect Deals, but Get Counterfeit Goods)
94 == CashApp Scam —- (Scammers’ New Favorite Way to Pay)
95 == Spectrum Health Scam —- (Vishing Calls)
95 == Mortgage  —- (Why Haven’t 19M Homeowners Refinanced Theirs Yet?)
97 == Overpriced Products —- (15 of the Most Outrageous)
99 == Tax Burden for Idaho Retired Vets —- (As of SEP 2020)
. * GENERAL INTEREST * .
102 == Notes of Interest —- (16 thru 30 September 2020)
103 == Fake News —- (Disfigured Vet Wants Social Media to Stop Using his Picture)
103 == Retirement Location  —- (Reasons Not to Move when you Do Retiree)
105 == Controversial U.S. Statues —- (Buyers Available for Those Removed for Racial Justice)
106 == Libya —- (Russian Fighter Jets Mercenaries Engaging in Combat Activities)
107 == China’s Offensive Capability  —- (Americans Do Not Understand Severity of the Military Threat)
108 == Military Theme Park —- (Lets You Drive Tanks, Crush Cars and Shoot Machine Guns)
109 == U.S. Embassy Manila —- (Limited Resumption of Passport/ Some Services)
110 == Cars That Never Made It —- (Buick XP-300, Ford Mustere, and Cadillac Cyclone)
110 == Have You Heard or Seen? —- (A True West Point Story | Latest Satanical Cartoons)
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].
3. Recipients of the Bulletin are authorized and encouraged to forward the Bulletin to other vets or veteran organizations.
. * ATTACHMENTS * .
Attachment – Pennsylvania Veteran State Benefits
Attachment – WWII Hell Ships
* DoD *
DoD HIV Policy
Lawsuit to Overturn Military’s Deployment Concern
Lawyers for military service members whose careers were halted after testing positive for the AIDS virus asked a federal judge Monday to overturn policies restricting their service as irrational and discriminatory. Lawsuits filed on behalf of two airmen and an Army National Guard sergeant say the military has no rational basis for holding the service members’ HIV status against them. The Air Force wants to discharge the two airmen from the service. The Army is refusing to grant an officer commission to the Army sergeant. Rules regarding service of HIV-positive members are not consistent across the military. Generally, people HIV-positive cannot join the military. But those who test positive after enlisting face varying treatment.
The Air Force says it wants to discharge the two airmen — even though their commanding officers recommended retaining them — because their HIV status bars them from deploying worldwide, and it generally wants its airmen to be universally deployable. The plaintiffs say a similar rationale was used to deny an officer commission to Army Sgt. Nicholas Harrison, an Oklahoma native who is seeking to join the Judge Advocate General Corps after earning his law degree. Lawyers for the government acknowledge that medical advances significantly reduce the risk of deploying HIV-positive service members. But they say the risks remain real, and urged the judge to grant deference to the military in handling the issue.
“Plaintiffs seek to substitute their own risk assessment for the professional military judgment of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Military Services regarding medical qualifications for service,” government lawyers wrote in court papers. In battlefield situations, government lawyer Rebecca Cutri-Kohart said military doctors believe there is a legitimate risk that HIV-positive service members might not regularly take the medication that keeps the virus in check. She said there are also concerns about battlefield blood transfusions. Scott Schoettes, a lawyer for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing the plaintiffs, said the risk of deploying HIV-positive service members is essentially nonexistent, so using HIV status to deny opportunities to serve makes no sense. “The only thing holding these service members back is that they are living with HIV,” Schoettes said during Monday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
In an interview after the hearing, Schoettes said airmen living with HIV faced increasing difficulties in the Air Force beginning under the Trump administration in 2017, when the service re-interpreted its rules to apply them more harshly to HIV-positive service members. Judge Leonie Brinkema, who heard the case, already granted a temporary injunction last year barring the airmen’s discharge, and her injunction was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. The injunction was based in part on her belief that the airmen’s lawsuit would be successful at this stage of the case.
In her ruling last year, which was focused on the airmen’s case, Brinkema acknowledged that the military is entitled a measure of deference but said “the Air Force’s approach to servicemembers living with HIV is irrational, inconsistent, and at variance with modem science.” She said Monday that she’ll issue a ruling at a later date. Schoettes said that, depending on how Brinkema crafts her ruling, it could apply not only to existing service members but also the bar on accepting new recruits who are HIV positive. [Source: The Associated Press | Matthew Barakat | September 14, 2020 ++]
Navy Maintenance Struggle
Attack Sub Boise Overhaul to Begin after 5 Year Sideline
It has been five years since the attack submarine Boise returned from its last patrol, and this whole time she has been waiting on some loving care and attention in the shipyards. On 21 SEP, the check cleared for roughly $351.8 million that covers the initial planning and work as part of her overhaul at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding where she has been in dry dock since earlier this year. Another contract covering the full engineering overhaul is in negotiations, according to Naval Sea System Command spokesperson Colleen O’Rourke, work that will include significant maintenance on the nuclear propulsion system and modernization upgrades. The running tab on Boise so far is $355 million, with advanced planning money already awarded, according to the Defense Department contract announcement. The work under this contract is scheduled to wrap up in May 2023, eight years after the sub left the operational fleet.
While Boise could be wrapped up by 2023 – the overhaul was initially scheduled for 25 months – it’s possible the repairs could take longer, O’Rourke said. The bill will be paid out of 2020 Operations & Maintenance funding, according to the contract announcement. Boise has been something of a cause célèbre among congressional leaders, who have pointed to the ship’s long wait to enter the shipyard as emblematic of the Navy’s struggle with maintenance delays. The issue with attack submarines has been complicated, because while that work would typically be done in the public shipyards, those have been backed up with aircraft carriers and the Ohio-class ballistic missile subs. Some of the Navy’s problems will resolve themselves after ballistic missile subs are refueled, said Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in a 2019 interview.
“The big factor here is that attack submarines are last in line when it comes to maintenance,” Clark explained then. “And that maintenance is done in the public yards, both the refueling and non-refueling overhauls. So that’s why you see submarines like Boise who have been waiting a long time to get in, because carriers had a lot of maintenance backlog. “And working through that backlog pushed SSBN refuelings back, and that in turn pushed attack subs to the end of the line. Now that they are working through the carrier backlog and the SSBN refueling is now largely completed, that’s going to mean the attack submarines can be brought back into the public shipyards. So that’s a structural issue that’s going to work itself out.”
But other aspects of the Navy’s quest to dig out of the submarine backlog are thornier and will require the service to make long-term commitments to private shipyards, Clark said. One of the main issues with assigning attack subs to private shipyards is that they are not necessarily set up as maintenance shops: They’re more so built and organized as new construction yards. Naval Sea Systems Command acknowledged as much in a statement to the Virginian Pilot as part of a story on the delays of Columbus and Helena, which the command attributed to “the workforce’s inexperience in conducting submarine maintenance, which differs greatly from new construction.”
Working through those issues will take time, Clark said. “It’s a totally different job from ship construction,” he added. “So that will take some time to build up a workforce and capacity that’s dedicated to ship maintenance, instead of taking folks who were working new construction and simply repurposing them for overhauls. There are some growing pains associated with adjusting to doing that kind of work.”
In an interview with USNI News, former Naval Sea Systems Command head Vice Adm. Thomas Moore said he thought Boise would go better than previous attempts at maintaining attack boats in private shipyard. “I think we are well-positioned on Boise, certainly way better than we were on Helena and Columbus, when we learned so many lessons the hard way,” Moore said. “They hadn’t done submarine work in 10 years, and I think we underestimated how they had atrophied in that skill set. I think they did as well. “And the other thing is, I think we recognized that we probably put too much on their plate, with multiple availabilities on their plate at one time.” [Source: DefenseNews | David B. Larter | September 22, 2020 ++]
Arlington National Cemetery
Update 89: Proposed Rule Change Excludes More Veterans, Service Members
Active-duty service members who die from an incident that was not in support of combat operations would no longer be eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery under a new proposed rule posted 15 SEP to the Federal Register. The current burial eligibility states any service member who dies while on active duty can have an in-ground burial at the cemetery or be inurned in a columbarium. According to the Federal Register notice, recent trends show about 43 service members are buried annually at Arlington National Cemetery who died on active duty “neither as the result of armed conflict service nor from preparations or operations related to combat.”
The new proposed rule is part of several changes meant to extend the active use of the cemetery. Arlington National Cemetery is expected to run out of space for new burials by 2055 despite two recent expansion projects. In fiscal year 2019, there were 3,691 new graves at the cemetery, according to the register notice. That year’s National Defense Authorization Act included instructions for the Army secretary to develop new criteria for burial at Arlington — restrictions that would allow it to remain an active cemetery for the next 150 years. The Department of the Army oversees the running of the cemetery. “Changes to eligibility at Arlington National Cemetery will preserve this national symbol and shrine as an active burial ground for current and future generations of military service members,” the register notice states.
The proposed rule is posted to the Federal Register as part of the process to change the regulation regarding burial eligibility. The rule would allow for about 700 new in-ground burials and 1,950 above-ground burials annually at the cemetery for eligible service members, veterans and family members. The public comment period on the proposed rule is open to until 16 NOV. Service members who are killed in action or whose death “results from preparations or operations related to combat” would be eligible for in-ground burials, according to the proposal. Veterans and service members are still eligible for in-ground and above-ground burials if they have served in combat and received one of the following decorations: the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross (Air Force or Navy), Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star or Purple Heart.
The proposed rule also states “without other eligibility,” such as being awarded those specific medals, veterans and service members who served on active duty for at least two years and “performed armed-conflict service” are still eligible for above-ground inurnment at the cemetery. If they do not meet these criteria, they are no longer eligible for above-ground inurnment unless they served honorably during an armed conflict prior to July 27, 1953. Active-duty service members who do not die in combat, such as in a training accident, could still be eligible for burial at the cemetery, depending on their specific circumstances. However, Barbara Lewandrowski, a spokeswoman for Arlington National Cemetery, wrote 15 SEP in an email that cemetery officials “may not provide direct responses to hypothetical eligibility during the comment period.”
The largest groups impacted by the new proposed rule are retired veterans who receive military retired pay and service members who are eligible to retire and are entitled to retired pay on the date of their death, according to the notice. They are now eligible for in-ground burial and inurnment in a columbarium, but the new change would only allow for above-ground inurnment unless they meet another eligibility. About 1,900 people in this category will remain eligible annually for above-ground inurnment. About 1,000 gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery are also being set aside for current and future Medal of Honor recipients, according to the notice. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Caitlin M. Kenney | September 15, 2020 ++]
Update 01: Mustard Agent Projectile Destruction Ahead of Schedule
This month, the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant team at the Army’s Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado completed the destruction of nearly 300,000 155mm projectiles, which each contained 12 pounds of mustard agent, said Walton Levi, site project manager. Chemical agent destruction operations in Colorado began in March 2015 and are scheduled to be completed by 2023, said Levi. More than 780,000 munitions were in the original chemical weapons stockpile in Pueblo.
Mustard agent is a blister-producing chemical weapon contained within three types of munitions stored at the Pueblo Chemical Depot, each named after the diameter of its shell: 155mm projectile, 105mm projectile and 4.2-inch mortar round, he said. This marks the end of the 155mm projectile campaign at PCAPP and the safe elimination of approximately two-thirds of the original chemical agent stored at the depot, said Levi. ”We proudly completed this campaign ahead of schedule — and while implementing strict, new protocols to keep our workforce safe amid the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Since the late 1960s, the U.S. government has been taking steps to reduce and eliminate the U.S stockpile of chemical weapons. This was reinforced by a presidential directive and the U.S. ratification in 1997 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that calls on all member nations to destroy their chemical weapons and production facilities. To comply with the treaty, the U.S. is destroying its last remaining chemical weapons stockpile, said Levi. ”Our ultimate goal is keeping the workforce and community safe from these World War II-era weapons,” said Army Col. Michael Cobb, commander of the depot. ”We use the utmost care and follow strict safety procedures when delivering the munitions from their storage igloos to PCAPP.”
”Destruction of 155mm projectiles is a great accomplishment for the PCAPP team,” said Ken Harrawood, project manager of the Bechtel Pueblo Team. ”Innovative solutions are key to solving issues that arise with a complex and one-of-a-kind operating facility like PCAPP. This would not have been possible without the dedication and professionalism of our amazing workforce.” ”I give credit to our team of employees dedicated to the munitions destruction effort, as many have spent their entire careers ridding the world of these weapons,” said Kim Jackson, plant manager. ”We reached this milestone because of the amazing workforce and their diligence, hard work and support to the PCAPP mission.”
”The United States is fully committed to destroying 100% of its remaining chemical weapons stockpile by Dec. 31, 2023,” said Mike Abaie, program executive officer of Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives. As of 14 AUG, the destruction of 1,673.5 tons of mustard agent in the U.S. has been reported to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental organization whose goal is to eradicate chemical weapons worldwide, said Abaie.
Under the close supervision of trained operators, the pilot plant uses dozens of automated systems to disassemble and drain the munitions and thermally heat the drained munition bodies, said Levi. The liquid agent is neutralized, and the product, hydrolysate, is then fed to living microorganisms in a process known as biotreatment, Levi explained. Water is recycled at the pilot plant and the remaining salt is shipped off-site to a permitted treatment, storage and disposal facility. The plant is equipped with a robust pollution abatement system made up of 12 carbon filter banks that filter out particles before air from inside the plant is released back into the atmosphere.
During the next several months at PCAPP, technicians will retrofit the plant’s robots and systems to begin processing the next munitions campaign, which are the 105mm projectiles, said Levi.In July, workers finished assembling three static detonation chambers to augment PCAPP by destroying problematic munitions, which are unsuitable for processing using the main plant’s automated equipment, said Levi. The SDC units will destroy the 4.2-inch mortar rounds, which is the third and final destruction campaign.
The other remaining chemical weapons facility in the U.S. is PCAPP’s sister site, the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant near Richmond, Kentucky. BGCAPP is safely destroying 523 U.S. tons of the nerve agents VX and GB (sarin) and mustard agent stored in rockets and projectiles at the site, Levi said. BGCAPP is using neutralization or an explosive destruction technology to safely destroy the munitions, he continued. BGCAPP began agent destruction operations with explosive destruction technology on June 7, 2019, and its main plant began operations on Jan. 17, 2020. Operations will be completed by Dec. 31, 2023. An important element in the process of safely destroying chemical weapons is the coordination and collaboration with the local communities. The Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program works closely and supports state and local governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to educate, prepare and protect communities surrounding the stockpile sites, Levi said. [Source: DOD News | David Vergun | September 21, 2020 ++]
Update 09: How It Could Improve TRICARE Coverage
The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) process is still underway. The House and Senate have passed their versions of the FY 2021 bill, and we are waiting to learn when the bill will head into conference to resolve differences between the drafts. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Virtual Storming the Hill and Summer Storm events have focused on provisions in the House NDAA version that help ensure continued beneficiary access to high quality care as military health system (MHS) reform efforts move forward. You can still make your voice heard on those issues, but there are several other important provisions, supported by MOAA, that could lead to improvements in the health care benefit if they are included in the final legislation.
Both the House and Senate versions require DoD to conduct a demonstration project to evaluate coverage of doulas and expanded coverage of lactation consultants under the TRICARE program. Doulas are trained professionals who provide physical and emotional support during labor, delivery and the early postpartum time. MOAA supports this effort to provide additional resources to servicemembers and spouses who often deliver without the support of their spouse, family, and friends due to geographic separation. The demonstration will evaluate this coverage expansion in terms of cost, quality of care and impact on maternal and fetal outcomes.
Both chambers also included provisions to conduct a study on the availability of prenatal and postpartum mental health care for servicemembers and their dependents. MOAA supports the Senate requirement of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on access to mental health care as well as the incidence of prenatal and postpartum mental health conditions among servicemembers and their dependents relative to the civilian population. We recommend the conferees include House language on barriers that prevent active duty servicemembers and spouses from seeking mental health care, and how DoD is addressing those barriers.
Other TRICARE Coverage
Because TRICARE coverage is governed by statute, it is often necessary to pass a law to update TRICARE policy to keep up with evolving technologies and treatment protocols. MOAA supports provisions in the House version of the NDAA that would address TRICARE coverage issues:
- Section 704 includes digital breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography) as a TRICARE-covered benefit for breast cancer screening. The procedure is already covered for diagnostic purposes and as a provisional benefit for screening.
- Section 707 expands hearing aid coverage to dependents of reserve component members enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select. Currently, TRICARE only covers hearing aids for active duty servicemembers and their families.
- Section 747 requires DoD to do a report to Congress on the feasibility, efficacy, and cost of expanding coverage for chiropractic care to TRICARE beneficiaries.
MOAA has long advocated to fix this chiropractic coverage gap. While they appreciate that servicemembers have access to chiropractic care in many military treatment facilities, they are concerned beneficiaries face a barrier to accessing chiropractic care given TRICARE’s lack of coverage. Chiropractic has become a standard of care for pain management, particularly as the opioid epidemic highlights the risks of relying on pharmaceuticals. MOAA is confident a report to Congress will provide additional support for coverage expansion. While MOAA remains vigilant to protect beneficiaries from disproportionate TRICARE out-of-pocket cost increases, they are also dedicated to ensuring the military health care benefit keeps up with evolving technology and treatment protocols and meets the unique needs of military families.
[Source: MOAA Newsletter | September 24, 2020 ++]
DoD Pharmacy Program
Update 02: ATM Style Dispenser Coming
Military health beneficiaries across the Department of Defense will soon have the option to pick up their prescriptions from lockers by using two forms of authentication. With a quick scan of their ID (Common Access Card or a state ID), and by inputting their date of birth or fingerprints, beneficiaries can unlock their medications. The pharmacy equivalent of an automated teller machine, or ATM, that dispenses medications instead of cash is cutting-edge technology that’s not new to the DoD, according to Air Force Maj. Jennifer Wang, a pharmacy flight commander at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California.
“For the Air Force, we jumped on this train pretty early. The first unit was installed in June 2009,” Wang said. There are currently 27 units at Air Force bases in the U.S. and Europe, with plans to add more than 20 units throughout the Military Health System beginning fall 2020 through 2021. “There will be a phased rollout based on each site’s unique circumstances. Some sites already have power and network in place, so those sites will likely go first,” said Wang. Other sites must transition to the Defense Health Agency’s common network security system Medical Community of Interest or Med-COI in order to install the locker units.
Over the past decade, the technology evolved so that the pharmacy can load multiple prescriptions in the dispenser at one time. The system is safe and secure for patients to use, said Wang. “The technology is pretty robust in ensuring the right person receives the right medication. Just like picking up in person, it requires two authentication factors before the robot retrieves the medication,” she added. But don’t expect the machines to replace face-to-face or even mail-order prescription options. The machines are meant to expand options and add convenience for patients, said Wang.
“These ‘ATMs’ can extend pharmacy operations beyond the MTF by acting as an additional remote prescription dispensing window,” said Wang. The pharmacy machine is available 24/7, reducing potential long lines and waiting times. The units will one day have video capabilities, allowing a patient who has a question to speak to a pharmacist via video when the pharmacy is open. “Like how a lot of our lives have evolved during this special time, remote video conferencing is just the way of life in the future,” said Wang.
Patients can pick up prescriptions at their convenience and are no longer bound to the pharmacy’s time, which Wang sees as a big bonus for patients. “It’s more useful now to protect both our patients and staff by decreasing potential exposure risk from face-to-face interactions,” she said, adding the units reduce potential crowding in the pharmacy lobby, especially for elderly and high-risk patients. “This is definitely an example of innovation on the part of the MHS.” [Source: Health.mil | MHS Communications Office | September 22, 2010 ++]
DoD CATCH Program
Still Available Amid Covid-19 Pandemic
The CATCH a Serial Offender program continues to be available for sexual assault victims amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Although social distancing and other safety measures continue to be implemented across the nation, victims may still call their local sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) or sexual assault prevention and response (SAPR) victim advocate to file a confidential report, known as a restricted report, and participate in the CATCH program. CATCH program entries can be filled in online after being provided a user name and password.
The CATCH program provides Service members and their adult dependents who have filed a restricted report of sexual assault a new confidential way to provide information about the alleged offender and incident to DOD criminal investigators without initiating an investigation in an effort to identify repeat offenders. “We encourage anyone who is about to file a restricted report or who has already done so in the past to consider signing up for the CATCH program,” said Dr. Nate Galbreath, acting director of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “It’s still an available option even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, takes a short amount of time, and can lead to justice for you and others.”
Investigators from each Military Criminal Investigative Organization headquarters review entries in the CATCH system and compare them against other CATCH entries and unrestricted reports in other law enforcement databases to identify potential matches. When a potential match is identified, a specially-trained CATCH point of contact privately notifies the victim, who is given the option to convert his or her restricted report to an unrestricted report and participate in the investigative and military justice process, as appropriate. Those contributing a report to CATCH decide their level of involvement in the program and can decline to participate anytime, even after a match is identified.
For more information about the CATCH program please visit www.sapr.mil/catch. For support, the DOD Safe Helpline is a hotline dedicated to members of the DOD community affected by sexual assault. The Safe Helpline offers completely anonymous, confidential, 24/7 support available online at www.safehelpline.org or by calling 877-995-5247. In addition, the Safe Helpline Mobile App provides access to one-on-one support, peer-to-peer support, information, resources and also access self-care exercises 24/7, worldwide on a mobile device. Safe Helpline personnel can provide crisis intervention support and refer members to long-term care resources within their local community or via the local SARC or SAPR VA. Interested personnel can meet some of the sexual assault prevention and response (SAPR) victim advocates from each military service who are ready to assist sexual assault survivors at www.sapr.mil/sites/default/files/public/docs/press/20200922_SAPR_VA_Highlights_FINAL.pdf. [Source: U.S. Dept. Of Defense | September 23, 2020 ++]
Military ID Card Requests
Update 02: Pandemic Temporary Policy Change USID, CAC, & VOLAC Cards
The Department of Defense is committed to protecting the security of our nation and its people by issuing identification (ID) cards to individuals requiring access to government systems and facilities, and to eligible individuals authorized to receive Uniformed Service benefits and privileges by law. The Department is equally committed to the safety of our personnel and beneficiaries, including retirees and other high-risk populations. This includes ensuring continued access to healthcare and other benefits during this time of increasing precaution and restrictions in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). To ensure DoD ID card offices are postured to maintain continuity of operations, and to minimize the number of non-essential required visits at DoD ID card offices, the following guidance is in effect through June 30, 2021 for USID cards ONLY:
Uniformed Services ID Cards (USID)
- If a cardholder’s affiliation is unchanged, USID cards which expired on or after January 1, 2020, are authorized for continued benefit use through June 30, 2021.
- Termination of cardholder affiliation with the DoD or termination of benefit eligibility shall be verified electronically prior to confiscating an expired USID card with an expiration date on or after January 1, 2020.
- Remote USID card renewals and reissuance shall be expanded.
- Remote family member enrollment/eligibility updates are authorized.
- Remote USID card initial issuance for first-time issuance or replacement of lost/stolen ID card is authorized.
- All remotely-issued USID cards shall be issued with an expiration date not to exceed one year from the date of issuance.
- The minimum age for initial USID card issuance is increased from 10 to 14 years.
- Continued use of the Reserve USID card to obtain active duty benefits is authorized for mobilized Reservists and their eligible dependents.
CACs & VoLACs
The following guidance for Common Access Cards (CAC) and Volunteer Logical Access Credentials (VoLAC) will expire on September 30, 2020 due to the high rate of CAC reissuance and low rate of certificate extensions:
- CACs and VoLACs which expire on or after April 16, 2020, and are within 30 days of expiration, may have the certificates updated using ID Card Office Online to allow for continued use for logical access through September 30, 2020. The User Guide below provides details on who is eligible, and whom to contact for questions or problems.
- CACs shall not be reissued due to printed information changes (e.g., promotions, name changes).
- CACs that expire on or after April 16, 2020, are authorized for continued use to facilitate access to benefits through September 30, 2020, if the cardholder’s eligibility for benefits is unchanged.
- Existing and new Trusted Associate Sponsorship System (TASS) applications will be valid for 180 days, permitting TASS-sponsored cardholders to take advantage of the remote options to update their certificates.
Refer to www.cac.mil/Portals/53/Documents/cacmil_COVID-19_FAQs_2020.pdf?ver=2020-09-09-134555-563 for answers to FAQs on the subject of renewal of all cards. The Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) will continue to be the authoritative source to verify statutory eligibility for DoD Healthcare and other benefits.
[Source: www.cac.mil/Coronavirus | September 22, 2020 ++]
Update 124: Jerome V. Hummel | Remains Identified After 70 Years
Remains of a Missouri soldier who died nearly 70 years ago in the Korean War will be buried 17 SEP at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis County. The burial plan for Jerome V. Hummel of St. Louis was announced by the Army on 14 SEP. Hummel was a corporal who served in the Heavy Mortar Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. At age 23 he was reported missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, after his unit was attacked by enemy forces. On Aug. 1, 2018, 55 cases believed to contain the remains of American service members lost in the Korean War were returned by North Korea. After testing, including DNA analysis, one proved to be those of Hummel. The Department of Defense says more than 7,600 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. [Source: The Associated Press | September 15, 2020 ++]
POW/MIA Recoveries & Burials
Reported 16 thru 30 SEP 2020 | 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 as of FEB 2019 are: World War II 73,025 of which over 41,000 are presumed to be lost at sea, Korean War 7665, Vietnam War 1589 (i. e. VN-1,246, Laos-288, Cambodia-48, & Peoples Republic of China territorial waters-7), Cold War 111, Iraq and other conflicts 5. 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 missing or unaccounted for personnel to date refer to www. dpaa. mil and click on ‘Our Missing’. Refer to www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Year/2019 for a listing and details of those accounted for in 2019. 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 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 names, photos, and details of the below listed MIA/POW’s which have been recovered, identified, and/or scheduled for burial since the publication of the last RAO Bulletin are listed on the following sites:
— Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Gabriel J. Eggud, 25, was a pilot assigned to the 110th Reconnaissance Squadron (Fighter), 71st Reconnaissance Group. On July 6, 1944 he was piloting a P-39 Airacobra fighter on a combat mission over Wewak, New Guinea, when a released bomb exploded and destroyed his aircraft. Efforts to recover Eggud’s remains were unsuccessful. Interment services are pending. Read about Eggud.
— Army Pfc. Bobbie Ray Daniels, 17, was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was reported missing in action on Aug. 16, 1950 during battle near Waegwan, South Korea. His remains could not be immediately recovered. He was officially declared dead on May 1, 1953. Interment services are pending. Read about Daniels.
— Army Pfc. Oliver Jeffers, 31, of Huntsville, Tennessee, was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. His unit was engaged in battle with German forces near Germeter, Germany, in the Hürtgen Forest, when he was killed in action on Nov. 10. Jeffers could not be recovered because of the on-going fighting. Jeffers will be buried Oct. 7, 2020, in his hometown. Read about Jeffers.
— Army Pvt. Donald A. Fabrize, 17, was a member of Company B, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. He was reported killed in action on July 16, 1950, during battle defending, then withdrawing from, positions along the Kum River in South Korea. His remains could not be immediately located or recovered. The Army deemed Fabrize non-recoverable on Jan. 16, 1956. Interment services are pending. Read about Fabrize.
— Army Pvt. Warren G.H. DeVault, 24, was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. His unit was engaged in battle with German forces near Hurtgen, Germany, when he was reportedly killed in action on Nov. 20, 1944. Interment services are pending. Read about DeVault.
— Navy Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Alphard S. Owsley, 23, as assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. 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 Owsley. Interment services are pending. Read about Owsley.
— Navy Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Harold L. Dick, 22, of Tipton, Missouri, was aboard the USS Colorado, which was moored approximately 3,200 yards from the shore of Tinian Island, of the Northern Mariana Islands. Early in the morning of July 24, 1944, the USS Colorado, along with the light cruiser USS Cleveland and destroyers USS Remey and USS Norman Scott, commenced firing toward the island. Within two hours a concealed Japanese shore battery opened fire on the USS Colorado. The first hit resulted in a heavy explosion and the ship sustained extensive fragmentation damage. From the attack, four crewmen were declared missing in action, and 39 personnel were killed, including Dick. Dick will be buried Oct. 10, 2020, in his hometown. Read about Dick.
— Navy Gunner’s Musician 1st Class Joseph W. Hoffman, 24, was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. 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 Hoffman. Interment services are pending. Read about Hoffman.
— Navy Mess Attendant 3rd Class Isaac Parker, 17, was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. 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 Parker. Interment services are pending. Read about Parker.
[Source: www.dpaa.mil | September 2020 ++]
* VA *
Burn Pit Toxic Exposure
Update 80: VA Still Denies 78% of Vet Claims after 20 Years of War
The United States is approaching nearly 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror and 30 years since the Gulf War. But the Department of Veterans Affairs is still denying close to 80% of all burn pit related claims veterans file. VA officials told Capitol Hill lawmakers on 23 SEP that 2,828 of the 12,582 disability claims filed by veterans related to burn pit exposure from 2007 to 2020 were approved — about 22%. In 2019, VA said it had approved about 20% of the more than 11,000 claims filed, denying about 80%. More than 50% of those were denied because of lack of evidence linking their conditions with exposures.
Under current policy, veterans who sicken after being exposed to toxic hazards during their service must prove that their illnesses were caused by those exposures unless VA considers the illness a “presumptive.” But adding illnesses to VA’s list of presumptive conditions — those health concerns VA or lawmakers have decided are “presumed” to be caused by military service — is difficult, at times complex and often costly, making progress to expand the list arduous.
And in Washington, cost has been the death knell for previous legislative efforts. So far, VA only recognizes temporary health effects related to burn pits, including respiratory, skin, eye and gastrointestinal tract irritation. More than 213,000 veterans and troops also have added themselves to VA’s Burn Pits and Airborne Hazards Registry, but that registry is entirely voluntary, and officials and advocates have repeatedly said that it doesn’t come close to reaching the total number of those affected. VA estimates as many as 3.5 million veterans may have been affected by burn pits and other airborne hazards during service.
Lawmakers were visibly frustrated with VA officials during a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing over what they said has been a lack of progress in caring for veterans sickened by exposure to burn pits and other toxic exposures. Members of Congress wanted assurances from VA that the more than 40 years taken to provide many Vietnam veterans care related to Agent Orange exposure, would not be repeated. “We may not have all the answers on burn pit exposure, if ever,” Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, said. “What we do know is that it’s making people very sick. I can’t tell these people to sit down to wait another 10 years because, quite frankly, some of them might not have another 10 years.” “We don’t want to see a 40-year wait like we did with Agent Orange,” said Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA).
VA officials tried to reassure lawmakers that the department would not make the same mistakes again.”No, it’s not going to take 40 years,” said Dr. Patricia Hastings, deputy chief consultant on post-deployment health services at the Veterans Health Administration. “We have learned lessons.” But it has been nearly two decades since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 launched massive American troop deployments to the Middle East and Southwest Asia where more than 200 burn pits blazed at the height of the conflicts — filled with human waste, electronics, ordinance, medical waste, jet fuel and more. It’s been more than 30 years since the Gulf War, where veterans say burn pits were also used. “We don’t want to repeat the past,” said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Illinois. “Unfortunately, VA keeps coming back with answers of ‘Oh, well, we’re not sure’ and everyone else in the world is sure.”
“My goodness, they came in healthy and they’re leaving sick,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). “They need to be treated by the VA … These people don’t have time and their families are suffering for it as well.” VA officials argued that the department can’t make decisions to provide care or disability compensation for veterans without evidence proving that their military service and exposures caused their illnesses, especially for conditions that may not manifest for many years after service. That has often been the case for veterans who sicken from Agent Orange, burn pits and other toxic exposures. “Some of the challenges are finding the link between that in-service event and the current condition they have,” said Laurine Carson, deputy executive director for policy and procedures at the Veterans Benefits Administration. “We’re still in the process of studying that.”
But veterans, their families, advocates and lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated with VA over what they’ve called “excuses” that lead to delays, or outright lack of care. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), who is also a doctor, argued that it’s often practice in the medical field to act on “a high enough probability, or suspicion, of harm.” Ruiz, who has sponsored several pieces of exposure-related legislation, said VA “claims to lack sufficient data” to provide care or compensation, but there is “independent research that raises high probability, or high suspicion of a causal link” between these exposures and veterans’ illnesses. “Our veterans cannot afford to wait for … the perfect study,” Ruiz said. “We have all the evidence to remove the burden of proof from veterans.” Ruiz called exposures that cause illnesses in veterans a “self-inflicted wound” by the Pentagon. “How can we send troops overseas to keep America safe and then turn our backs on them?”
To that end, lawmakers have introduced several major bills this Congress aimed at providing health care and compensation to veterans sickened by their exposures. One of those, the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act, creates sweeping mandates for VA to further research, track and care for eligible veterans who fall ill because of exposure to toxic substances during service — perhaps the most comprehensive legislation on military toxic exposures ever introduced in Congress. The TEAM Act was approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during the House hearing and now heads to the Senate floor for a vote, Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) announced. Another bill introduced last week would establish presumptive conditions for burn pit exposure.
VA officials said they were reviewing a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that found limited evidence of a link between service in the Gulf War and Southwest Asia after 9/11 and “chronic persistent cough, shortness of breath and wheezing” but found “insufficient evidence” to prove veterans’ respiratory illnesses are caused by burn pit and other airborne hazard exposure. That report analyzed only evidence on respiratory illnesses and exposures, though veterans report other conditions including cancers.
That includes veterans like 29-year-old Marine Pat Duva, dying of a rare brain cancer he and his family believe was caused by his exposure to burn pits in Iraq. His fiancée Chelsea told Connecting Vets on 23 SEP that Duva was still hanging on. “He’s a fighter,” she said from his bedside, holding his hand. [Source: ConnectingVets.com | Abbie Bennett |September 23, 2020 ++]
VA Blue Water Claims
Update 83: Vietnam Deck Log Digitalization Project Completed
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced28 SEP completion of an interagency effort with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to digitize declassified deck logs to process claims faster for eligible Vietnam-era Veterans. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard deck logs within NARA contain helpful information being used to validate claims for Blue Water Navy (BWN) Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam, to establish presumption to herbicide exposure for service-connected disability benefits. “The team at NARA recognizes the importance of this effort making it easier for BWN Veterans to receive the benefits they’ve earned without burdening them with paperwork,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Since January 1, VA has processed thousands of claims and encourages every Veteran, dependent and surviving spouse who is eligible to file a claim as soon as possible.”
Data contained in deck logs is used when deciding VA benefit claims. Also known as ship logs or captain’s logs, information was manually inputted to chronologically document the daily activities of a navy ship or unit. VA provided the digital images of deck logs to NARA, available in the National Archives Catalog. “Through this scanning project, VA contractors digitized declassified Navy and Coast Guard deck logs from 1956-1978 in NARA’s holdings, including the log of the hospital ship USS Sanctuary which I served aboard during the Vietnam conflict,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “As a Veteran from this era, I recognize the unprecedented value this provides to Veterans making these logs easily accessible online.”
Digitization of all available Navy deck logs for ships that served in Vietnam were completed in December 2019, while Coast Guard deck logs were completed in September. Veterans, dependents and surviving spouses may contact approved Veterans Service Organizations for assistance in filling a claim. Learn more about Agent Orange or call 800-827-1000 for more information. The The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, signed into law by President Trump June 25, 2019 and effective January 1, extends the presumption of service connection for certain diseases associated with herbicide exposure. To date, VA has collectively awarded $641 million to more than 22,524 Blue Water Navy Veterans or survivors. [Source: VA News Release | September 28, 2020 ++]
VA Home Loan Guaranty
Update 01: COVID-19 Regulatory Relief
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that VA is allowing home mortgage loan deferments for Veterans who have experienced financial hardships due to the COVID-19 national emergency. In Executive Order 13924 President Trump directed federal agencies to rescind, modify, waive, or provide exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery. Many Veterans have taken advantage of the loan forbearance program provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Under the Act, borrowers who have federally-backed loans can receive forbearance of their monthly home loan payments, for up to 360 days. Forbearance does not mean forgiveness. As Veterans exit their CARES Act forbearance periods, they must work with their mortgage company to determine when to repay the missed amounts.
To protect against predatory lending, VA regulations generally prohibit a large, lump-sum balloon payment from being included in the loan. However, temporarily waiving the regulation in these limited circumstances means Veterans have additional options when resuming regular monthly payments after a CARES Act forbearance — without penalty, additional interest, or late fees. “A loan deferment can work like a reset button to help alleviate economic burdens some Veterans may be experiencing,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Providing loan deferment as an option could be the one thing standing between financial normalcy and foreclosure.” VA cannot require mortgage companies to offer loan deferments. Veterans who want to know whether loan deferment is an option should consult their mortgage company directly. Learn more about VA’s deferment options. [Source: VA Press Release | September 24, 2020 ++]
Update 10: Relief Offered to Veterans Impacted by Natural Disasters
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced 16 SEP its commitment to extend debt relief to Veterans adversely impacted by natural disasters. The department recognizes Veterans and beneficiaries are negatively impacted by the wildfires and hurricanes prompting the offering of financial debt relief. “Veterans and their families should be focused on their health and safety during the natural disasters,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is taking action to give those with pending debts greater flexibility during these challenging times.” This includes the suspension of debt collection action for up to 90 days or extending repayment terms on preexisting VA debts, whichever the Veteran prefers. To request assistance for VA financial debt relief, Veterans should contact the VA Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648. [Source: VA News Release | September 16, 2020 ++]
Update 22: Wilke to Vets — Hang In There For In-Person Care
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is telling vets anxious to get back to in-person services at local VA facilities to hang in there. While many civilian health providers have resumed in-person visits, most VA hospitals and outpatient clinics in Florida are still limiting vets to come in for emergencies and certain essential appointments. For example, Bay Pines VA in St. Petersburg is still not offering elective surgeries, and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital’s outpatient clinics in the Tampa Bay region are only open for urgent referred appointments. Higher coronavirus case rates in the state mean the reopening process has moved slower compared to VA facilities in some other parts of the country.
Secretary Wilkie told WUSF that changes could come soon if downward trends in cases continue. But he said the VA has to be cautious. VA patients tend to be older and have health issues, so they’re especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Wilkie said he thinks scaling back routine in-person visits and elective surgeries during the pandemic has saved lives. “But in response to that, we increased the availability of telehealth across the country and we can do things like dermatology and many medical services through telehealth, the most important of which is mental health,” he said. Wilkie said in the Tampa area alone, virtual VA appointments increased by more than 3,400% this year.
Nationwide, Wilkie said there are about 2,600 active COVID-19 cases within the VA. The virus has infected thousands more veterans over the course of the year and has killed more than 3,100. Wilkie is encouraging vets to contact their local VA hospitals and monitor their websites to learn more about what services they’re offering and coronavirus safety precautions in place. Anyone experiencing distress can also contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. [Source: WUSF News | Stephanie Colombini | September 23, 2020 ++]
VA Chronic Wound Care
VA Researcher Develops ‘Smart Bandage’ Technology
Veterans and others with limited mobility who use a wheelchair are prone to developing pressure injuries. Also referred to as pressure ulcers, pressure injuries are chronic wounds that can be painful for patients and expensive to manage – both for the individual and the health care system. Chronic wounds that are slow to heal require repeated trips to the clinic for specialized wound care. Because many Veterans live long distances from the nearest VA medical center, treatment for them can require hospitalization over a period of months. The cost to treat pressure injuries in the U.S. is $9.1–$11.6 billion per year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
It is a problem that Dr. Kath Bogie has been working on intermittently for nearly 15 years. Bogie and a team of colleagues have now created a “smart bandage” that makes use of electrical stimulation to treat chronic wounds that will not heal on their own. The high-tech bandage, called “Exciflex,” is based on technology developed by the researchers—initially named the Modular Adaptive Electrotherapy Delivery System, or MAEDS. Bogie is a biomedical engineer who specializes in chronic wound care. She works with the VA Advanced Platform Technology Center (APT), in Cleveland. She says that Veterans are one of the groups at highest risk for chronic wounds, especially those who have sustained a spinal cord injury. Service members are also more likely to experience a traumatic wound, like a blast injury, which is more complex than an acute surgical wound and has a greater risk of infection.
“As a normal wound heals, there is a lot of biological activity,” explains Bogie. “The cells start to proliferate, and the wound begins to heal and close up. A chronic wound gets stuck and doesn’t go on to heal. The general thinking is that electrical stimulation provides the energy to promote healing in a chronic wound.” Chronic wounds are also colonized with bacteria that may form a biofilm, which delays healing. Preliminary data suggest that using electrical stimulation can disrupt the biofilm, minimize infection, and promote the growth of new blood vessels, says Bogie.
Another crucial element is that the device can offer therapy at any time—and outside of clinic visits. The bandage is equipped with sensors, electrodes, a power and control module and other elements. The electronics within its top half can be removed from the absorbent bandage beneath it, which can be worn for up to seven days before disposing of it. And what’s happening inside the bandage itself and the wound can be recorded. According to the release, the chip can capture data including the period of use, battery charge, as well as readings of a wound’s temperature or any disturbance across it. Health care professionals can leverage information collected by the bandage in patients’ overall treatment. Further, the smart bandage also includes a capability—which has not yet been approved by VA for use—to sync up straight to patients’ phones and directly transmit information to their clinical care providers, enabling them to make treatment adjustments in close to real time.
Using electrical stimulation is not a new approach. However, the science has not been applied consistently, says Bogie. She points to multiple clinical studies that used various off-the-shelf devices to deliver electrical stimulation, like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TNS), which is typically used to treat back pain. All of these studies used a standard surface electrode that must be reapplied to the skin every time the patient needs to receive therapy. The smart bandage technology is unique in that therapy can be delivered around the clock and is not limited to clinic visits, which promotes healing.
For a wound to heal effectively, it must have the right conditions. “A wound feels better when it is kept moist and warm, but not too hot, not too dry. It’s like Goldilocks,” says Bogie. The smart bandage can stay in place for up to seven days, so the wound environment remains stable. That is one of the reasons why the smart bandage system is superior to a traditional wound dressing that must be removed every time the patient receives conventional electrical stimulation. For more information refer to www.research.va.gov/currents/0920-VA-researcher-develops-smart-bandage-to-treat-chronic-wounds.cfm. [Source: VHA via Veterans Council of St. Johns County | William Dudley | September 12, 2020 ++]
VA Covid-19 Care
Update 02: VA Aims to Validate Effective Treatments through New Initiative
VA is launching a new initiative aimed at giving Veterans faster access to potential COVID-19 treatments and confirming their effectiveness. VA CURES—the “VA Coronavirus Research and Efficacy Studies”—is a master protocol. It offers a standardized framework for studies on many potential treatments for COVID-19, without the need for a new study design and protocol each time. Over the coming months, VA CURES studies will evaluate drugs for different stages of COVID-19 infection, from the prevention to outpatient and inpatient stages. About 25 VA medical centers are participating in VA CURES. The program is led by infectious disease, critical care, and pulmonary experts in VA.
“This coordinated effort for controlled trials is very important so we can develop an infrastructure within VA to show what works with our patients,” says Dr. Edward Janoff, an infectious disease specialist at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System. VA CURES studies will evaluate new treatments, such as antiviral agents and drugs that impact the immune system. Some trials may include outpatients with mild symptoms to prevent their progression to hospitalization. The VA CURES team also plans to prioritize preventive measures for Veterans who would be at high risk for illness should they become infected.
“We will begin by carefully evaluating treatments to study that we think have the best chance of bringing about an effective treatment not only for Veterans but also for other people,” says Dr. Sheldon Brown, an infectious disease specialist at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. “That’s our immediate priority. The only thing we can rely on is good quality evidence. That’s exactly the purpose of having a program like VA CURES. We want to obtain the best quality evidence we possibly can so people are not misled about a benefit or the potential harm of a treatment when, in fact, it may be something that’s important to help them.”
In the first VA CURES clinical trial, researchers are studying convalescent plasma for treating seriously ill COVID-19 patients. Convalescent plasma is the liquid part of the blood that contains antibodies, which are proteins the body makes to fight infections, such as COVID-19. It is donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19. Some 700 Veteran volunteers with COVID-19 who are hospitalized at VA medical centers are being enrolled in the trial, which Janoff and Brown are leading. The study team is randomizing half of the patients to receive convalescent plasma. The others are receiving a saline placebo. Both the study team and patients are blinded to the form of treatment. The study will determine whether convalescent plasma donated by Veterans and others can help COVID-19 patients recover when it’s infused into their blood. The key outcome measurement is how many patients experience respiratory failure or die from any cause by day 28. A secondary outcome is time to recovery within the 28-day period.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized use of convalescent plasma as an investigational treatment for COVID-19 through the FDA’s expanded access program. That program was used widely throughout the nation, including about 80 VA sites, as an approach for seriously ill patients who have few, if any, options left. It ended last month. The FDA has now authorized emergency use of the therapy, based on the available scientific evidence to date. That means not only can researchers use convalescent plasma for investigational purposes, but health care providers can also use it for hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
“This trial will go a long way toward helping in the fight against COVID-19,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release. “VA CURES will provide valuable information that will benefit our Veterans who are battling COVID-19, as well as other patients and the medical community in general.” Each VA CURES study, Janoff explains, will build on the preceding trials and involve patients with different levels of disease severity. “These clinical trials are carefully designed studies to prove what does and what doesn’t work for optimal care of patients with COVID-19,” he says. “Convalescent plasma is the first of a number of studies. We will verify what the outcomes are before we move on to another study.”
VA CURES has a cadre of committed VA investigators with technical expertise. “I’ve been extremely impressed with the resources VA has on hand and has brought to bear for the design and implementation of this study, and to assure the safety of Veterans in the trial,” Janoff says. “We have joined experts in study design, pharmacists, people who collect and manage the data, and those who work at VA sites identifying how many patients are available, so we select the right sites for the trial. The study is well supported by VA research and clinical programs to assure that as a result of this research, VA will be able to provide well-validated treatments to improve the health of our Veterans.
“VA CURES also supports early-stage investigators who want to work in VA to provide the best care for Veterans,” he adds. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for clinician-researchers to launch and maintain a productive career within VA and to establish the best and safest treatments for Veterans and, ultimately, the community.” [Source: Vantage Point | Mike Richman | September 2, 2020 ++]
VA COVID-19 Cases
Update 06: Decline Ends with 7% Spike
A steady decline in new coronavirus cases over nine weeks at the Department of Veterans Affairs came to an end last weekend, with the department seeing a 7% spike in new diagnoses across its health system, according to data released Monday. Active cases of COVID-19 at the VA remain at less than half they were at their peak 20 JUL. But the upturn — 189 new cases over the weekend of 19 SEP — is similar to increases seen nationwide, which health experts say may be related to relaxed standards and social events over Labor Day.
As of 21 SEP, the VA had 2,844 active cases, up from 2,655 Friday. The number of active cases is roughly the same as the department saw in mid-June but remains well below the 6,424 receiving treatment at the VA on July 20 — the department’s single busiest day since the pandemic began.
- To date, 57,968 veterans, employees and other patients under VA care have tested positive for the virus and 3,263 have died, including 67 deaths recorded between 18 and 21 SEP, according to the department.
- Across the U.S., the weekly number of new COVID-19 cases also rose last week for the first time in eight weeks, with new cases increasing by 17% and deaths rising by nearly 6%, according to calculations made by Reuters.
- The U.S. has recorded 6.83 million cases — just over a fifth of the world’s known total — and 199,690 deaths, or nearly 21% of COVID-19 deaths worldwide. The U.S. is averaging slightly more than 40,000 cases per day.
“Why are we going back up? I think there are a few reasons,” Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told CNN. “One is that there is general fatigue. People are really tired of this. And then the second thing is … the completely contradictory messages that we’re getting — not just the misinformation, but also the confusion about how things are spread.”
The Defense Department does not release its number of active cases, instead revealing cumulative totals, which surged past 60,000 last week, including active duty, family members, civilians and contractors. As of 21 SEP, 43,419 military personnel; 5,725 dependents; 9,647 civilian employees; and 4,080 contractors had been diagnosed with the coronavirus; seven service members, seven dependents, 21 contractors and 58 employees have died. Infections among military personnel remain high, with roughly 800 new cases diagnosed every two to three days, according to Pentagon data. The Army has had the most cases, 15,831, as of 21 SEP; the Navy, 9,880; the Air Force, 6,807; the Marine Corps, 5,404; and the National Guard, 5,152. An additional 345 service members across DoD agencies also have tested positive.
The most recent death within the DoD community was Pamela Harris, 60, a school counselor at Fort Knox Middle/High School in Tennessee, who died 15 SEP. Fort Knox is among the 25 Department of Defense Education Activity school systems in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that reopened for in-person learning in August or September. The school switched to remote learning Sept. 4 after six staff members developed symptoms of COVID-19. [Source: Military.com | Patricia Kime | September 22, 2020 ++]
Alcohol Misuse Care
Fecal Transplant Helps Alcohol Cravings
Fecal transplant therapy is safe and can reduce alcohol craving and use in patients with alcohol use disorder, found a VA study. The preliminary study by Central Virginia Veterans Healthcare System and Virginia Commonwealth University researchers showed that fecal microbiota transplant could be safe and potentially effective towards reducing alcohol misuse, pending further research. “This study is a proof of concept that the way to the brain in through the gut,” said Dr. Jasmohan Bajaj, first author on the study. “This, if confirmed in larger studies, may have implications for alcohol misuse and potentially other substance abuse disorders that are based on addictive behavior and are very common in our Veterans.” The results appeared in the journal Hepatology on Aug. 4, 2020.
Cirrhosis, scarring of the liver, can result from heavy drinking. Continued alcohol misuse after cirrhosis can hasten the disease’s progression. Previous research has shown that alcohol use disorder is associated with changes in the bacteria in the gut. These changes in gut microbiota—the collection of microorganisms within the body—can make cirrhosis worse. Alcohol use disorder, with or without cirrhosis, is also linked to major changes in the gut-brain axis, the communication between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Research has shown that gut microbiota can influence brain signaling, affecting cognition. Some research has even suggested that the bacterial make-up of the digestive system is involved in addictive behavior and could be linked to alcohol intake.
Fecal transplant versus placebo
To explore this connection, the research team performed a randomized clinical trial of fecal microbiota transplant versus placebo on 20 patients at the Hunter Holmes VA Medical Center. In the transplant, processed fecal matter from a donor is enriched with beneficial bacteria and introduced into the patients. The patients in the study were then monitored for six months. All patients had cirrhosis and alcohol use disorder, and had failed or were unwilling to participate in usual therapies. In addition, many also had depression and PTSD. These co-occurring conditions made the patients unable to stop drinking even though they had already damaged their livers, explains Bajaj.
Fifteen days into the study, nine transplant patients had reduced alcohol cravings, compared with only three in the placebo group. This was accompanied by lower urinary Etg/creatinine levels, a measure of actual alcohol intake. This is the first human study to test fecal microbiota transplant to potentially reduce alcohol addiction, according to Bajaj. Prior animal studies have shown a linkage between the microbiota and alcohol intake. The transplant group also had reduced levels of markers associated with systemic inflammation. These positive changes were not seen in the placebo group.
Tests showed that fecal transplant led to increased microbial diversity in the gut. Microbe diversity did not change in the placebo group. Patients who received the transplant had a greater abundance of beneficial bacteria and products such as short-chain fatty acids, which can affect the brain. Some of these bacteria are usually decreased in alcohol-related cirrhosis and liver disease. More of this type of bacteria is associated with protection from alcohol-induced intestinal and liver injury.
The fecal transplant group also showed signs of improved mental function, as well as improvement in psychosocial but not physical quality of life. This likely indicates that both brain function and the patients’ assessment of their cognitive abilities had improved, says Bajaj. They also improved on several other measures at six months. They showed a trend toward abstinence from alcohol, although this result was not statistically significant. Most in the placebo group showed evidence of continued alcohol misuse.
Furthermore, the results show that fecal transplant is safe. Only two of the transplant group had serious adverse events after the procedure, compared with eight in the placebo group. A safety board concluded that neither of the adverse events in the transplant group was related to the procedure. Seven of the eight adverse events in the placebo group were tied to alcohol use disorder, which varied from alcohol relapse, alcohol withdrawal, motor vehicle accidents and falls requiring urgent medical attention.
The researchers call the results “encouraging.” Microbial manipulation could potentially lead to improvements in cirrhosis and alcohol use disorder, they say. The linkage between decrease cravings and bacteria is also interesting, according to the researchers. It could be evidence of how the microbiota regulates the gut-brain axis. But they caution that larger studies are needed to explore this connection. On the whole, say the researchers, the study shows that fecal microbiota transplant has real potential as a safe and effective treatment for future study in reducing alcohol craving and consumption in patients with cirrhosis. [Source: VA Research Communications | Tristan Horrom | September 10, 2020
Update 16: Where & How to Get Them
GI Bill Modernization
Digitize Education & Housing Benefits Administration
The Department of Veterans Affairs is eyeing yet another large-scale modernization effort — this time an overhaul to the legacy systems it uses to administer education and housing benefits under the GI bill. The department is asking Congress to reprogram some $243 million from the funds it received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act this past spring to overhaul its education IT services. The goal, VA said, is to acquire and configure three commercial off-the-shelf packages. Those systems will allow VA to call, email, text and chat with GI bill beneficiaries, respond to questions from colleges and universities in real-time and grant VA immediate access to beneficiary records, Paul Lawrence, VA’s undersecretary benefits, told House members 16 SEP.
- VA is seeking a customer relations management system. “When veterans call us, we know everything about them on the phone,” Lawrence said.
- The department will also purchase high-tech computing power, which will allow VBA to instantly calculate veteran educational benefits.
- VA will acquire enough data capacity so it has quick access to information about its beneficiaries and colleges and universities.
- VA will hire a systems integrator and software development contractor “with proven experience doing what we need done,” Lawrence said.
VA estimates it will take between two-to-three years to complete the effort. The $243 million reprogramming request is just one piece of the investment VA hopes Congress will make. The department doesn’t yet have a total estimate of how much the entire digital GI bill modernization effort will cost. Currently, the Veterans Benefits Administration administers $12 billion in educational benefits to about 1 million beneficiaries using 23 different systems. The existing systems are unsustainable, Lawrence said.
A December 2019 visit from VA education services staff to Congress last year made that point known to lawmakers. “VA claims processors use more than a dozen systems, — many of them decades old — toggling back and forth between screens, manually transferring data from one system to the next and taking and storing screen shots for audit purposes,” said Susie Lee (D-NV) chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization. “The inefficiency alone is problematic, not to mention the risk of error in data entry and the impact of those errors on our veterans.”
For VA, the new effort represents a shift from the way it’s handled past IT projects, including the failed implementation of the Forever GI bill from 2018, which gained widespread criticism from Congress and veterans organizations. VA eventually pushed Forever GI bill implementation back a year and met deadlines back in December. Now, Lawrence said VBA is using the lessons it’s learned from those efforts to inform the latest project. For example, he said VBA will use the same governance structure to manage and oversee the digital GI bill project. The Mitre Corporation, which VA hired last year to help implement outstanding provisions of the Forever GI bill, will again serve as a program integrator to monitor the schedule, ensure the business requirements and resolve technical issues.
Congress is cautiously optimistic. “It represents an opportunity to learn from the past and do things differently,” Jim Banks (R-IN), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said of the digital GI bill project. “It could be a break with the tired, old way of doing business that fails over and over but never seems to lose its hold over the federal government. We have seen it many times. An agency hires a traditional contractors, not a technology company, with notional requirements in hand. The contractors sells the agency a closed, proprietary system or worse builds one. The requirements fall apart and the scope creeps. The contractor burns millions of dollars just to keep the lights on. The project relaunches multiple times and eventually the agency lowers the goal posts or the whole effort gets canceled and we start all over again.” Banks sees the current plan as a sign of a breakthrough for VA, if successful.
The modernization effort will also help VA more quickly respond to ever-evolving legislative changes to the GI program and adapt to the new environment the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon colleges and universities in recent months and for the foreseeable future, said Charmain Bogue, executive director for education services at VBA. Congress in March passed new legislation into law, which gives VA the authority to continue administering GI housing benefits to veterans during the pandemic, even though they may be taking college courses virtually. “We had to adapt quickly,” Bogue said. “This highlighted some of the severe issues we had in our space. We thought this was the time to leverage the CARES Act funds in order to reprogram those funds to education services to modernize our systems. There’s a direct correlation to COVID-19 and what’s happening in our country right now.”
VBA has spent the past six-to-seven months working with the department’s chief information officer and Mitre to hash out an acquisition strategy. From the $243 million reprogramming request, $198 million would go to VBA. VA’s Office of Information and Technology would receive the remaining $45 million. Jim Gfrerer, VA’s CIO, said the department’s IT investment board is mapping out what resources it will need to support the digital GI bill modernization. “That has historically been a challenge,” he said. “In many cases the business will get the appropriated funding and IT will not, and that’s a problem.” [Source: Federal News Nework | Nicole Ogrysko | September 16, 2020 ++]
VA C&P Exams
Update 01: All Exam Locations Now Open
VA has partnered with specialized contract examiners to resume in-person Compensation & Pension (C&P) exams related to disability benefits at their designated contract facilities and not at VA medical facilities. Your local VA Medical Center (VAMC) will still conduct VA medical appointments and testing related to your health care. Specific safety requirements are still in place for Veterans’ health. While specialty exams are only performed when it is safe, certain areas have allowed removal of personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to complete the appointment. Through a joint collaboration with VA contract medical examiners, VA has opened its final location in central Alabama to create a 100% re-opening of locations now scheduling in-person C&P exams for disability compensation claims. Visit: benefits.va.gov/compensation/claimexam.asp for more information regarding locations in your area. You can also visit www.va.gov/disability/va-claim-exam to learn more about claim exams after you file your disability benefits claim. In addition you might want to visit the YouTube playlist Video Series on VA claim exams at www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLrrh23QvVVYhAJ6t3vr81YvDypkezZ2yI which will walk you through what may happen and what to expect during your exam based on your claimed condition(s). [Source: VA News | September 18, 2020 ++]
VA Telehealth Program
Update 20: Veteran Access Expanded with iPad Services
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced 15 SEP a new collaboration with Apple to increase Veterans’ access to virtual care benefits. VA’s iPad program provides qualifying Veterans with cellular-enabled iPads to access telehealth services and currently helps more than 50,000 Veterans across the country connect to VA health care services virtually. “VA will continue working diligently to provide Veterans with the tools and resources necessary to access quality health care when and where they need it,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA’s partnership with Apple is an integral step in helping to bridge the digital divide for Veterans everywhere. This is particularly critical during the COVID-19 public health emergency, when telehealth is being leveraged to protect the safety and well-being of both our Veterans and clinicians.”
VA has been a leader in telehealth services for decades and began the Connected Tablet program in 2016. A VA study found Veterans who received tablets, reported high levels of satisfaction with care, were less likely to miss appointments and found it easier and more convenient to access VA care. To standardize the program and provide Veterans a consistent, quality experience, VA will exclusively distribute iPads to Veterans. iPads offer Veterans the combination of portability, user experience, data privacy and security made possible through Apple’s integrated hardware and software platform. The collaboration between VA and Apple, facilitated by the VA Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships, provides VA with Apple’s expertise to help enhance the platform and ensure Veterans and health care professionals have the best telehealth experience.
“VA’s iPad program provides unparalleled convenience and flexibility when attending my VA appointments,” said Fiona Garcia, a U.S. Air Force Veteran who served from 2001-2011. “After receiving an iPad in March, I’ve been able to receive VA care when and where I need it most. The technology also allows me to stay connected with my doctors when I am not near a Wi-Fi connection or near the VA medical center.”
As part of VA’s commitment to supporting Veteran health care, patients can also securely view and download their personal medical data using the Health Records on iPhone feature from Apple. Veterans who don’t currently have a video-capable device or internet service and are interested in VA’s telehealth iPad program should consult their VA health care team to determine their eligibility. Visit Connected Care at connectedcare.va.gov for more information about VA telehealth. [Source: VA Press Release | September 15, 2020 ++]
VA Disaster Resources
Available to Veterans
Veterans and their families should be focused on their health and safety during the natural disasters,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is taking action to give those with pending debts greater flexibility during these challenging times.”
Health Care Assistance
If you have questions such as where to go for care or how to receive prescribed medications, VA has established a toll-free number for assistance in areas that have been impacted by disasters. Veterans or their families can call the VA Veterans Disaster Response line 24 hours, seven days a week at 1-800-507-4571.
- If you are affected by a natural disaster, have a VBA benefit debt and need temporary financial relief, please contact VA’s Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648 to request assistance.
- If you have questions on Compensation or Pension benefits: Call toll-free 1-800-827-1000 Monday – Friday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST.
- Find a VA Vet Center near you 877-WAR-VETS (927-8387) or www.va.gov/find-locations
- Mobile Vet Centers and Vet Center teams are actively responding to disaster-affected areas to offer counseling and grief support as well as connection and referral services to other VA and community resources.
- Find a VA facility near you www.va.gov/find-locations
- Call the White House VA Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-948-2311.
- Apply for $500 grant for your damaged primary residence (on a first come, first serve basis subject to funding) from PenFed Foundation.
- National Resource Directory – Search for local resources for Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.
- FEMA – FEMA helps with temporary housing, repair or replacement of existing homes.
- American Red Cross – The American Red Cross offers emergency financial assistance to the most impacted counties. Please call 1-800-733-2767 to see if you qualify.
- Disaster Assistance – An easy way to determine if your zip code has been declared a disaster and eligible for assistance. The website also allows users to complete an online application and the ability to check FEMA application status.
- Disaster Distress Helpline – The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.
Free Help for Homeless Veterans
Dial 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) for 24/7 access to VA services for homeless, displaced and at-risk Veterans
Homeless Veteran Chat Confidential, 24/7 online support for homeless Veterans and friends
Visit www.va.gov/homeless/ for more information
California Specific Resources:
- State of Texas Hurricane Center
- Texas Division of Emergency Management Resource Page
- Houston Combined Arms
Whether you’re just getting out of the service or you’ve been a civilian for years now, the VA Welcome Kit can help guide you to the benefits and services you’ve earned. Print out your VA Welcome Kit
[Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs | September 19, 2020 ++]
VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse
Reported 16 thru 30 SEP 2020
Boston, Mass. – A former Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) employee was sentenced 14 SEP for embezzling nearly $70,000 in VA funds. Michael Donaher, 41, of Lakeville, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani to time served (approximately one day), three years of supervised release with the first six months to be served in a sober house, and ordered to pay $69,720 in restitution. The government recommended a sentence of one year and one day incarceration. In May 2020, Donaher pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement and theft of public money, property or records after being arrested and charged in January.
Donaher worked as an Inventory Management Specialist for the Veterans Affairs Medical Facility in Brockton and was responsible for purchasing various equipment necessary for use in the facility. Donaher conducted fraudulent transactions using his government-issued purchase cards and routed the proceeds to his personal bank account. He attempted to conceal these fraudulent purchases by making it appear as if the purchases were made through a large company that the VA frequently used for legitimate business, when, in fact, they were actually made through a company Donaher created through a mobile payment company. These purchases were not for actual items ever received by the VA. Furthermore, Donaher attempted to hide this fact by annotating the items as having been received within the VA’s accountability system. Donaher fraudulently routed approximately $70,000 of VA funds to his personal account since the scheme began in 2016. [Source: DoJ Dist. of Massachusetts | U.S. Attorney’s Office | September 14, 2020 ++]
Las Vegas, Nev. — A Las Vegas resident pleaded guilty in federal court 9 SE to fraudulently obtaining nearly $1.2 million in Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits, announced U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada. Javier Montano, 57, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government funds. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey on December 14, 2020.
According to court documents, Montano — who was the branch manager of a bank in Las Vegas — received information about two accounts with large balances and no activity: The first account (Account A) was held by a Las Vegas resident who was receiving SSA retirement benefits. The individual passed away in February 1997. The SSA was not notified about the individual’s death, and benefits continued to be paid into the account. The second account (Account B) was held by a Las Vegas resident who was receiving both SSA retirement benefits and VA benefits. The individual passed away in June 2011. Neither the SSA nor the VA was notified about the individual’s death, and benefits continued to accumulate in the account.
Through a bank computer, Montano ordered debit cards for both accounts, using them to withdraw cash — which he either spent or deposited into his personal bank account — and to make purchases for his personal use and benefit. In addition, Montano ordered and wrote checks (for his personal use) for Account B. Montano also used his authority as a branch manager to authorize a $35,000 cashier’s check from Account B. He then used the funds to buy a luxury car, which he has agreed to forfeit to the United States. In total, between August 2015 and June 2020, Montano fraudulently obtained: (a) approximately $436,686.80 in SSA benefits to which he was not entitled; and (b) approximately $757,985.88 in VA benefits to which he was not entitled. The statutory maximum penalty faced by Montano is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The sentencing of a defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. [Source: DoJ Dist. of Nevada | U.S. Attorney’s Office | September 10, 2020 ++]
Philadelphia, Penn. — United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Ralph Johnson, 54, of Kinzers, PA, former Chief of Environmental Management Services at the Corporal Michael J. Cresenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Philadelphia, PA, was charged by Indictment for soliciting and accepting bribes in connection with contracts and purchase orders at the medical center.
As the Chief of Environmental Management Services, Johnson was responsible for a range of sanitation, waste removal, linen and uniform services for the Philadelphia VAMC, and participated in the solicitation and award of contracts to vendors for those services. According to the Indictment, Johnson is charged with asking for, and receiving, thousands of dollars in cash from two Florida-based companies in return for steering purchase orders and contracts to those companies several times from about July 2018 until August 2019. He is also charged with seeking a $10,000 kickback on an $84,000 contract for tree trimming and removal awarded to one of those vendors, for which Johnson had fraudulently and grossly inflated the estimate of the work to be done and the price for that work under the contract.
“The allegations here are shameful. By giving us their best, we owe our veterans the same in return. As a senior official tasked with maintaining a healthy and safe environment for the care and treatment of our nation’s veterans, Ralph Johnson had a responsibility to do that job with honesty and integrity,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “Rather than being concerned about serving our veterans, Johnson was allegedly concerned with serving himself by lining his own pockets at taxpayers’ expense.”
David Spilker, Special Agent in Charge at the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) stated, “VA OIG will vigorously investigate alleged instances when government employees solicit and accept bribes and kickbacks from vendors and contractors who seek to obtain business with the VA. As alleged in the indictment, Johnson’s actions breached the public’s trust, undermined the integrity of VA’s operations, and besmirched the vital work that honest hardworking VA employees do every day in support of our nation’s veterans.” If convicted, the defendant faces a possible sentence of 45 years imprisonment, 3 years supervised release, and up to a $750,000 fine. [Source: DoJ Eastern Dist. of Pennsylvania | U.S. Attorney’s Office | September 16, 2020 ++]
Beckley, W. Virginia — A doctor of osteopathic medicine who formerly worked at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia, pleaded guilty today to three counts of depriving veterans of their civil rights under color of law by sexually abusing them. Jonathan Yates, 51, of Bluefield, Virginia, was previously indicted on five counts of depriving veterans of their civil rights under color of law, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 242, and two counts of abusive sexual contact, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 2244(b).
At the change of plea hearing held 17 SEP before U.S. District Judge Frank W. Volk, Yates admitted that he rubbed the genitals of two veterans, and digitally penetrated a third veteran’s rectum under the guise of legitimate medicine, when in fact he acted without a legitimate medical purpose. This conduct, performed while Yates was acting under color of law in his capacity as a VA physician and a federal employee, deprived the veterans of their constitutional right to bodily integrity and caused them pain. According to the plea documents, the veterans had sought treatment from Yates to manage chronic pain through osteopathic manipulative therapy.
“This doctor abused his position of trust by preying on veterans who came to him for medical treatment. As this prosecution demonstrates, he will now be held accountable for using his position as a VA physician to deceive and molest his patients.” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “By virtue of today’s plea agreement, Yates stands convicted of heinous criminal acts committed against military veterans who served our country honorably and with great sacrifice,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart for the Southern District of West Virginia. “Throughout this matter, from the commencement of this investigation to today’s plea, our focus has been on seeking justice for these veterans by holding Yates accountable for these terrible acts.”
“What occurred at the Beckley VA Medical Center is particularly despicable because this abuse was at the hands of a doctor who was entrusted with providing compassionate and supportive care to veterans,” said VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal. “The result today was due to the tireless and dedicated efforts of the VA OIG investigators and our law enforcement partners. This doctor will no longer be able to prey on the trust of those who have dedicated their lives in service to our nation.” Yates is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 4, 2021. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. [Source: DoJ Southern Dist. W. Virg. | September 17, 2020 ++]
Tampa, Florida – Dr. Richard Davidson (41, Boca Raton) has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. Davidson has also agreed to forfeit $2,472,087 to the United States, which represents the proceeds he obtained through the commission of the offense. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
According to the plea agreement, in 2018, Davidson and his conspirators established a conglomerate of durable medical equipment (“DME”) supply companies. During the creation of the companies, they lied to Medicare to secure billing privileges. The scheme involved placing the companies in the names of straw owners. By concealing their true ownership, the conspirators secretly gained control of multiple companies, which Medicare prohibits. This enabled the conspirators to submit high volumes of illegal DME claims while attempting to evade law enforcement scrutiny. In one year, through the conglomerate, Davidson and his conspirators submitted more than $20 million in illegal DME claims, resulting in more than $10 million in payments from Medicare and the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“CHAMPVA”).
To attain such high volumes of claims, the conspirators used bribes and kickbacks. Specifically, Davidson and his conspirators illegally purchased thousands of signed doctors’ orders for DME braces from so-called “marketers.” The marketers, for their part, had generated the signed doctors’ orders under the guise of “telemedicine,” but no telemedicine had actually occurred. Instead, the “marketers” had bribed doctors to sign the DME brace orders that supported the illegal claims. Davidson and his conspirators paid millions to secure the illegal DME claims for submission to Medicare and CHAMPVA. [Source: DoJ Middle Dist. Of Fla. | U.S. Attorney’s Office | September 18, 2020 ++]
Buffalo, N.Y. – U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced 16 SEP that Darnell Curry, 27, of Buffalo, NY, who was convicted of assaulting, resisting, or impeding a federal officer, was sentenced to serve six months in prison by U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. Assistant U.S. Attorney John D. Fabian, who handled the case, stated that on February 19, 2020, while at the Starbucks inside the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo, the defendant engaged in a verbal argument with a female employee. Three Department of Veterans Affairs Police officers approached Curry in response to a complaint about the verbal argument. When the defendant did not hear or acknowledge verbal commands, an officer touched Curry’s shoulder. The defendant turned and a scuffle with the officers ensued. During the scuffle, Curry pulled an officer by the vest and into his body. In the process, the defendant struck the officer in the head, leaving a mark on his cheek below his left eye. Physical resistance by the defendant resulted in the officers taking Curry to the ground, handcuffing, and detaining him. [Source: DoJ Western Dist. of N.Y. | U.S. Attorney’s Office | September 16, 2020 ++]
Tampa, Fla. – David Naylor (58, Spring Hill) has pleaded guilty to theft of government funds. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set. According to the plea agreement, Naylor engaged in a scheme to defraud the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In order to deceive and steal from the VA, Naylor made false representations regarding his physical limitations in connection with his application for VA Disability Compensation. Based on these false representations, the VA found that Naylor was entitled to Disability Compensation and other related benefits. In total, Naylor received $549,426.23 in VA benefits to which he was not entitled. Naylor also received $181,135.50 in Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. [Source: DoJ Middle Dist. of Fla. | U.S. Attorney’s Office | September 23, 2020 ++]
Little Rock, Ark. – Dallas-area Dr. Lorraine De Blanche, 56, pled pled guilty 25 SEP before U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller to obstructing a federal health care investigation. Patient complaints and a surge in claims for durable medical equipment (DME) and compounded prescription drugs triggered investigations into telemedicine fraud targeting federal insurers, including TRICARE, CHAMPVA, and Medicare. This prompted federal investigators to speak with medical providers linked to related DME claims and prescriptions.
In March 2019, Special Agents from DCIS and VA-OIG interviewed Dr. De Blanche about her work for telemedicine companies in 2015 and 2016, while she was practicing in Little Rock. During the interview she acknowledged working for the companies at issue but willfully misled agents about her telemedicine consultations. Dr. De Blanche reported she always evaluated patients by telephone before determining whether or not compounded prescription drugs or DME were needed. As Dr. De Blanche would later admit, however, on repeated occasions she ordered the products without first consulting patients.
U.S. Attorney Hiland stated “health care is a trillion-dollar industry. My office is committed to purging it of fraud. Serious consequences await those who hinder that task by misleading our partners in federal law enforcement.” “The Defense Criminal Investigative Service is committed to ensuring that TRICARE, the U.S. military healthcare program, continues to provide safe and superior medical care to America’s Warfighters,” said DCIS SAC Mentavlos. “Fraudulent telemedicine schemes not only expose beneficiaries to potential harm, but also waste valuable taxpayer dollars.”
“Each year, billions of dollars are lost and hundreds of lives are endangered in health care fraud schemes,” said FBI SAC Upchurch. “Dr. De Blanche willfully misled federal agents tasked with investigating one such scheme. Today’s guilty plea is the result of great work by our agents and partners at the DCIS, VA-OIG, and HHS-OIG.” Obstructing federal health care investigations is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Under the terms of her plea agreement, Dr. De Blanche agreed to forfeit over $33,000.00 in telemedicine proceeds and pay a $180,000.00 fine. She will be sentenced at a later date. [Source: DoJ Eastern Dist. of Ark. | U.S. Attorney’s Office | September 25, 2020 ++]
* Vets *
Covid-19 Vet Impact
8 Ways Veterans are Particularly at Risk
From the elderly who are facing deadly outbreaks in nursing homes to communities of color facing higher infection and death rates, different groups face different challenges from the coronavirus pandemic. Among the most hard-hit are veterans, who are particularly susceptible to both health and economic threats from the pandemic. These veterans face homelessness, lack of health care, delays in receiving financial support and even death. Jamie Rowen, Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst has spent the past four years studying veterans with substance use and mental health disorders who are in the criminal justice system. This work revealed gaps in health care and financial support for veterans, even though they have the best publicly funded benefits in the country. Here are the eight ways she has concluded the pandemic threatens veterans:
1. Age and other vulnerabilities
In 2017, veterans’ median age was 64; their average age was 58 and 91% were male. The largest group served in the Vietnam era, where 2.8 million veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. Younger veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to dust storms, oil fires and burn pits, and perhaps as a consequence have high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Age and respiratory illnesses are both risk factors for COVID-19 mortality.
2. Dangerous residential facilities
Veterans needing end-of-life care, those with cognitive disabilities, or those needing substance use treatment often live in crowded VA or state-funded residential facilities. State-funded “Soldiers’ Homes” are notoriously starved for money and staff. The horrific situation at the Soldier’s Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where more than 40 veteran residents have died from a COVID-19 outbreak, illustrates the risk facing the veterans in residential homes.
3. Benefits unfairly denied
When a person transitions from active military service to become a veteran, they receive a Certificate of Discharge or Release. This certificate provides information about the circumstances of the discharge or release. It includes characterizations such as “honorable,” “other than honorable,” “bad conduct” or “dishonorable.” These are crucial distinctions, because that status determines whether the Veterans Administration will give them benefits.
- Research shows that some veterans with discharges that limit their benefits have PTSD symptoms, military sexual trauma or other behaviors related to military stress. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have disproportionately more of these negative discharges than veterans from other eras, for reasons still unclear.
- The Veterans Administration frequently and perhaps unlawfully denies benefits to veterans with “other than honorable” discharges.
- Many veterans have requested upgrades to their discharge status. There is a significant backlog of these upgrade requests, and the pandemic will add to it, further delaying access to health care and other benefits.
4. Diminished access to health care
Dental surgery, routine visits and elective surgeries at Veterans Administration medical centers have been postponed since mid-March. VA hospitals are understaffed – just before the pandemic, the VA reported 43,000 staff vacancies out of more than 400,000 health care staff. Access to health care will be even more difficult when those medical centers finally reopen. The VA is asking doctors and nurses to come out of retirement to help already understaffed hospitals.
5. Mental health may get worse
An average of 20 veterans commit suicide every day. A national task force is currently addressing this scourge. But many outpatient mental health programs are on hold or being held virtually. Some residential mental health facilities have closed. Under these conditions, the suicide rate for veterans may grow. Suicide hotline calls by veterans were up by 12% on March 22, just a few weeks into the crisis.
6. Complications for homeless veterans and those in the justice system
An estimated 45,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and 181,500 veterans are in prison or jail. Thousands more are under court-supervised substance use and mental health treatment in Veterans Treatment Courts. More than half of veterans involved with the justice system have either mental health problems or substance use disorders. As residential facilities close to new participants, many veterans eligible to leave prison or jail have nowhere to go. They may stay incarcerated or become homeless. Courts are moving online or ceasing operations altogether. It is unclear whether participants will face delays graduating from court-supervised treatments. Further, some Veterans Treatment Courts still require participants to take drug tests. With COVID-19 circulating, participants must put their health at risk to travel to licensed testing facilities.
7. Disability benefits delayed
In the pandemic’s epicenter in New York, tens of thousands of veterans should have access to VA benefits because of their low income – but don’t, so far. The pandemic has exacerbated existing delays in finding veterans in need, filing their paperwork and waiting for decisions. Ryan Foley, an attorney in New York’s Legal Assistance Group, a nonprofit legal services organization, noted in a personal communication that these benefits are worth “tens of millions of dollars to veterans and their families” in the midst of a health and economic disaster. All 56 regional Veterans Administration offices are closed to encourage social distancing. Compensation and disability evaluations, which determine how much money veterans can get, are usually done in person. Now, they must be done electronically, via telehealth services in which the veteran communicates with a health care provider via computer. But getting telehealth up and running is taking time, adding to the longstanding VA backlog. Currently, approximately 75,000 veterans wait more than 125 days for a decision. (That is what the VA defines as a backlog – anything less than 125 days is not considered a delay on benefit claims.)
8. Obstacles to getting stimulus checks
Veterans with the greatest financial need may not automatically receive their stimulus checks. Currently, those living on tax-exempt income from the VA must file a tax return to get a check. But e-filing a tax return is a significant obstacle for many, especially severely disabled veterans who may not have computers or know how to use e-file software. There are many social groups to pay attention to, all with their own problems to face during the pandemic. With veterans, many of the problems they face now existed long before the coronavirus arrived on U.S. shores. But with the challenges posed by the situation today, veterans who were already lacking adequate benefits and resources are now in deeper trouble, and it will be harder to answer their needs.
[Source: The Conversation | Jamie Rowen(Opinion) | 2020 ++]
Vet Burial Plans
Update 01: How to Obtain a Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility
You can apply to find out in advance if you can be buried in a VA national cemetery. This is called a pre-need determination of eligibility—and it can help make the burial planning process easier for your family members in their time of need. Follow the steps below to apply.
Step 1: Find out if you’re eligible. One of these must describe you:
- A Veteran who didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge when you separated from the military, or
- The spouse or dependent child of a service member or Veteran, even if the service member or Veteran has already passed away, or
- In some cases, the adult dependent child of a service member or Veteran (if you aren’t married)
VA bases their decision of whether or not you qualify for burial in a VA national cemetery on your service history—or the service history of the Veteran or service member who’s sponsoring your application for burial as a spouse, surviving spouse, or unmarried adult child. To get more details about eligibility refer to www.va.gov/burials-memorials/eligibility. Note that if a service member dies on active duty, they’re eligible for burial without a pre-need decision letter.
Step 2: Choose the VA national cemetery where you’d prefer to be buried.
To find a VA National cemetery go to www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/index.asp. Note that this application is only for VA national cemeteries. If you’d like to be buried in a state or tribal Veterans cemetery, contact that specific cemetery ahead of time to find out about their pre-need program. You can apply for a pre-need determination of eligibility from VA and also from a state or tribal Veterans cemetery. Getting a pre-need determination of eligibility doesn’t guarantee you’ll be buried in a specific VA national cemetery. VA does not take reservations at any VA national cemetery. However, they ask where you prefer to be buried so they can try to help fulfill your final wishes.
To find a state Veterans cemetery go to www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/index.asp. Some state Veterans cemeteries require that you live in that state or have other rules around eligibility. This application doesn’t apply to Arlington National Cemetery or the United States Soldiers and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery. If you’d like to be buried in either of these Department of the Army cemeteries, call 877-907-8585 Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET, and Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET.
Step 3: Gather the supporting documents and information you’ll need to fill out the application.
See the list below. If you don’t have everything on the list, you can still apply and VA will help by finding the supporting documents needed. Just keep in mind that the more information you can give when you apply, the faster your application can be reviewed and you can be given a decision. VA will contact you they need you to provide additional information.
Step 4: Be sure to fill out an application for each person requesting a pre-need eligibility determination. If both you and your spouse are applying, you’ll each need to fill out your own application.
Information needed to apply.
To apply, you’ll need your (or your sponsor’s):
- Social Security number
- Date and place of birth
- Military status and service history (like service dates, discharge character, and rank—commonly found on the DD214 or other separation documents)
- Discharge papers (DD214 or other separation documents)
Note: If you don’t have discharge papers, find out how to request the DD214 at www.va.gov/records/get-military-service-records. If you’re applying as a spouse, surviving spouse, or unmarried adult child, you’ll also need your personal information, including your Social Security number. If you’re applying on behalf of someone else, you’ll also need supporting documents showing you have the authority to apply for that person. You’ll need to fill out one of these forms:
- Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant’s Representative (VA Form 21-22) available at www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-22-ARE.pdf; or
- VA Form 21-22 (PDF) available at www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-22A-ARE.pdf
If you’re applying for an unmarried adult child of a Veteran or service member, you’ll also need to provide supporting documents with information about the child’s disability. The Veteran or guardian of the child should also ask the child’s current doctor to verify the documents. These documents should include all of the following information:
- The date of the disability’s onset, and
- A description of the disability, mental or physical, and
- A description of how dependent the disabled child is on the Veteran, and
- The marital status of the child
How to Apply
- Online at www.va.gov/burials-and-memorials/pre-need/form-10007-apply-for-eligibility .
- Fill out an Application for Pre-need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery VA Form 40-10007. Download at www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA40-10007.pdf.
- The person applying for a pre-need determination must sign the form. If that person is under 18 years old, mentally unable to make decisions for themselves (sometimes called mentally incompetent), or physically unable to sign the form, a spouse, parent, or court-appointed representative may sign the form.
- If you’re signing the form on behalf of someone else, you’ll need to select box 33B on the form and provide your name, address, phone number, and email address in blocks 34 through 37. Tou will also need to provide supporting documents that show why the person applying can’t sign and that show your relationship to the person applying
- Send your completed application (with copies of your supporting documents) to: National Cemetery Scheduling Office, PO Box 510543, St. Louis, MO 63151. Do not send the originals of your DD214 and other supporting documents since they can’t return them. Send copies only.
If you need help filling out your application call VA’s toll-free hotline at 877-222-8387 M-F, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. You can also get help from a trained professional trusted to help with VA-related claims, like an accredited representative or Veterans Service Officer (VSO). Find a representative at www.benefits.va.gov/vso/varo.asp or find your state’s Veterans agency at www.va.gov/statedva.htm. Note that these services are free. No one should ever ask you to pay them to help you fill out VA Form 40-10007 or file your request. You can find out what happens after you apply for a pre-need eligibility determination at www.va.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility/after-you-apply. Note that a large number of pre-need eligibility applications have been received and it’s slowing down the approval process. VA will let you know when they’ve received your application and how long they think it’ll take to make a decision. For more information, you can call 877-222-8387. You are requested to wait to hear back about your application rather than applying again. [Source: www.va.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility | September 26, 2020 ++]
MOH License Plate
Someone Stole Leroy Petry’s
If you see someone driving around with a Medal of Honor license plate, the vehicle may not necessarily belong to a recipient of the military’s highest honor for valor. Retired Army Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, who received the award in 2011 for risking his life to save fellow Rangers in Afghanistan in 2008, says someone stole the plate off one of the front of his vehicle last week while it was parked at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “So yesterday I noticed that someone stole my Medal of Honor plate from the front of my vehicle while parked at Seatac airport last week while I was visiting the troops in Ft. Eustis VA,” said Petry, 41, in a post on his Facebook page. “I had the security screws so someone must have really wanted it. Probably some Call of Duty gamer or PX Ranger. #StolenValor.” Who does this?
Petry didn’t immediately return a Facebook message, phone call or text message seeking comment, but a spokesman for the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Police called the crime “disgusting.” “For someone to boldly try and take something that obviously is an honor everyone recognizes, to have that kind of thing taken from someone is really a terrible situation,” said airport spokesman Perry Cooper. The taking of the plate from the vehicle, described by Cooper as a Ford Raptor, is listed in the police report an investigation into “Theft 3 – Motor Vehicle Parts/Accessories.”
Records show that on 15 SEP, Petry called SEA-TAC airport police from the Department of Licensing to report the plate missing. Petry told police he parked his vehicle at the airport at 6:02 a.m. Sept. 9 and noticed the plate was missing when he returned at 10:23 p.m. on Sept. 11. “That’s one of the days people keep sacred around here,” Cooper said. “I’m not even sure what a good word to describe this is. It’s disappointing that someone would think that this was worth stealing.” The stolen plate number was logged into state and federal crime data bases. But police reviewing footage from security cameras in the garage were unable to uncover any clues about who took Petry’s plate, earned at a tremendous cost. “Unfortunately, we don’t have much to go on at this point,” Cooper said. The crime, said Cooper, is rare. “This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this, where a Medal of Honor plate was stolen,” said Cooper. “And I’ve been here 14 years.”
Petry received the Medal of Honor for heroics during combat on May 26, 2008, near Paktya, Afghanistan, during which he distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry. He received the Medal of Honor on July 12, 2011, from then-President Barack Obama for saving the lives of fellow Rangers when he picked up a grenade and threw it away from them during an intense fight. He was on his seventh deployment and assigned to D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He had already been shot through both legs when he saw the enemy grenade and instantly knew the danger. “This husband and father of four did something extraordinary,” said Obama during the award ceremony in 2011. “He lunged forward, toward the live grenade. What compels such courage?” Petry’s right hand was traumatically amputated during the fight and he now uses a state-of-the-art prosthesis, which allows him amazing dexterity.
After two deployments to Iraq and six to Afghanistan, Petry was assigned to Joint-Base Lewis McChord, Washington, where he was a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and attached to Special Operations Command, serving as a liaison for the Special Operations Command Care Coalition, working to help other troops wounded in the war zone. In his 15 years in the Army, he has been a grenadier, squad automatic rifleman, fire team leader, squad leader, operations sergeant and a weapons squad leader. One of the Army’s most recognizable soldiers, an iconic figure of heroism with a prosthetic hand, he has sought to share the spotlight with fellow soldiers.
He had originally planned to stay in the Army for 20 years or more. After a medical board last fall, and continuing to deal with results of his injuries, he decided it was time to retire. Petry was promoted to master sergeant and retired in a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2014, three years after receiving the nation’s highest award for valor. [Source: MilitaryTimes Howard Altman | September 15, 2020 ++]
Military Retiree ID Card
Update 04: New Cards More Durable and Resemble CACs
The military is ditching flimsy laminated paper-based ID cards for military retirees and dependents for an all-new card system: the Next Generation Uniform Services Identification Card. According to a Defense Department announcement published 17 AUG, the cards, which represent the first ID update for these military communities since 1993, will be more durable and more closely resemble the Common Access Cards, or CACs, used by active-duty troops and DoD civilians. The new IDs are already in circulation: the military quietly began issuing them to retirees, reservists and dependent military family members 31 JUL at a few ID card facilities, according to the DoD release.
The new USID cards are enhanced with an updated design and security features to deter counterfeiting and fraud, Michael Sorrento, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center, said in a statement. To date, only about 20 Real-Time Automated Personnel Identification Card System (RAPIDS) sites now offer the new cards; other sites await equipment upgrades in order to make them. All DoD USID card facilities are set to offer the IDs by December 2020, according to the release. The complete transition to new USID cards is targeted for January 2026. This transition doesn’t affect current card expiration dates and doesn’t change the populations who are eligible to get the current USID cards.
In addition to dependents of active-duty troops and reservists and retirees and their dependents, those eligible for these DoD-recognized IDs include Medal of Honor recipients and their dependents and 100% disabled veterans and their dependents, among others. A full list of eligible groups can be found here. The cards facilitate access to military bases and to other exclusive facilities, such as commissaries and exchanges. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the rollout of the new cards. Sorrento advised that it would be better to wait to get the new card until next summer unless the holder’s current one is expired. Applicants should call ahead for appointments to get the new USID cards.
In April, Pentagon officials announced that dependent and retiree cards set to expire in 2020 would be automatically extended through 30 SEP in light of the pandemic, and changed policy to allow some ID updates and new enrollments to be done by mail. In September it was announced that they were extended again through 30 June, 2021. DoD is further developing the ID card process, Sorrento said in the release, and eyeing changes such as a mail-in ID process with online vetting, eliminating the requirement to apply in person at a RAPIDS site. [Source: Military.com | Bing Xiao| August 24, 2020 ++]
Korean War Vet
Donald M. Griffith | Chosin Reservoir Survivor
Donald Griffith grew up in East Toledo, Ohio. While still in high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. After completing basic training, Griffith transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, to serve as a sentry. Shortly afterward, he went to California and boarded a ship for China. However, he stayed in Hawaii and served as a guard for World War II Japanese prisoners. He later served a military policeman and promoted to sergeant. In 1947, Griffith went back to Norfolk to work at the Navy base as a guard at the Navy prison. After his four-year term was up, he reenlisted in the Marine Corps and went to the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While there, Griffith worked in the storage depot as a quartermaster. When the Korean War started, Griffith transferred to a Marine Corps guard company and traveled by ship to the Pacific in the summer of 1950. After temporarily landing in Japan due to typhoon activity, Griffith landed in Pusan, South Korea, and assisted with rifle range training.
In the fall of 1950, Griffith’s ship landed at Incheon near Seoul as part of the forces to capture Kimpo Air Base and eventually march on Seoul. After securing the air base and capital, Griffith’s platoon returned to their ship to reload ammunition before sailing for Wonsan in North Korea. Griffith’s battalion stayed briefly in Seoul before going to the Chosin Reservoir to combat the Chinese People’s Army forces there. In mid-November, the battalion marched from the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir over to the western side as the Chinese forces encircled the UN command forces. Eventually, the lack of supplies and air support forced Griffith’s battalion to retreat.
On Dec. 1, 1950, the Chinese captured Griffith and two other soldiers during the battalion’s retreat. Despite wounds to his face, Griffith and the other soldiers marched without food or water for two days and three nights. When they arrived at a POW camp, guards separated Griffith from his comrades due to his wounds. He attempted to escape but guards recaptured, tortured and held him in a pigpen for 33 days. The Chinese transferred him to another POW camp in April 1951. He remained in captivity until the war’s ceasefire in July 1953.
After the ceasefire, Griffith and the other POWs traveled by train to Panmunjon for formal release 31 AUG. When he returned to the United States, Griffith went to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital to have facial surgery. He honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1954 as a staff sergeant. For his wounds, Griffith received a Purple Heart. After leaving the service, he returned to Ohio and worked for Nationwide Insurance. After retiring from Nationwide, Griffith worked as a zoning inspector for the city of Northwood. In the 1980s, Griffith was one of the first POWs to receive the Prisoner of War Medal. President Ronald Reagan presented him the medal at a ceremony at the White House.
In his retirement, Griffith was active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Korean War Veterans groups. He also was a member of the Chosin Few, the group formed in the early 1980s of survivors of the Chosin Reservoir battle. Griffith passed away in 2016. We honor his service. [Source: Vantage Point | Slavic Yezersky | August 27, 2020 ++]
WWI Vets 11
Louis W. Miles | MOH Awardee Takes Enemy Trench at Age 45
It’s not every day that a 44-year-old enlists in the Army, let alone a doctor/professor who’s already married with three children. But when World War I broke out and the U.S. joined the cause, that’s exactly what Army Capt. Louis W. Miles did. Miles (above center) served with such distinction that, during a brutal fight in France, he earned the Medal of Honor. Miles was born March 23, 1873, in Baltimore and was destined to be a scholar. He got a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1894. Soon after, he earned a degree in medicine from the University of Maryland and worked at the university’s hospital for a time. His desire to continue learning took over, though, so he went back to Hopkins to get his doctorate in English in 1902.
For more than a decade, he taught German and English to students from grade school to college, according to his obituary in The New York Times. Miles also happened to be the nephew of a former Army Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Hugh L. Scott, so service to the country wasn’t lost on him. Shortly after the U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917, Miles put aside his teachings at Princeton University and joined the school’s ROTC unit. He was 44 years old, an assistant professor and a married father of three, but he wanted to serve his country. By the end of the academic year, Miles was granted a leave of absence from Princeton and went to officers’ training camp, where he earned his commission as a lieutenant.
Not long after that, he was sent to France with the Army’s 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division. Prior to entering combat soldiers from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division practiced attacking enemy trench lines (above right) and the proper way to attack an enemy with a bayonet (above left) during training with the British Army on May 8, 1918. The soldiers of the 77th Division, who were mostly draftees from New York City, were among five U.S. divisions trained by the British Army in World War I.
According to a Princeton Alumni Weekly article written by a man who fought with Miles during the war, the 44-year-old was offered a chance early on to return to the U.S. and be promoted to captain to help form a new regiment, but he refused, saying his place was in France. Miles stayed on the front and eventually earned that promotion anyway. On Sept. 14, 1918, Miles volunteered to lead Company M in an attack on an enemy trench near Revillon, France — a trench that other troops had previously tried to overrun without success. As Company M closed in on the trench, they were immediately hit with intense machine gun fire, and they had no artillery assistance to back them up.
Miles pushed on anyway, stepping to the front of the group to cut a passage through German wire entanglements. In doing so, he was shot five times with the bullets fracturing both of his legs and one arm. Instead of staying down, Miles ordered his men to physically pick him up and carry him forward to the enemy trench, which they stormed ”like maniacs,” according to an article in the 1923 Index-Journal, a South Carolina newspaper. Once in the trench, Miles had his men put him on a stretcher so he could direct the fire of his company and encourage his soldiers, who had already suffered numerous injuries. After two hours, Company M managed to consolidate their front line and hold the enemy trench – a feat many thought was impossible. Despite his wounds, Miles was so invested in the fight that, when it was over, he had to be carried to an aid station against his will.
Miles survived his injuries, but the wounds to one of his legs were so bad that it had to be amputated. He was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, but that was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor. It’s unclear exactly when or where he actually received the award. When the war ended, Miles returned to civilian life. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Maryland and went on to serve for seven years as headmaster at a boys’ school in Baltimore. In 1927, he published a book about the 308th Infantry’s history during World War I. From that year on, he worked as a professor at his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, until about 1940, when he was named professor emeritus.
At some point, he and his wife had a fourth child. Unfortunately, one of their two sons died in 1942 while fighting in the Pacific during World War II. On June 27, 1944, Miles himself died at the age of 71 from a long illness. He was buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. Miles’ desire to serve at any age and at any point in his career serves as inspiration to others to this day. [Source: DOD News | Katie Lange | September 14, 2020 ++]
WWI Vets 12
Eugene Jacques Bullard | World’s First Black Fighter Pilot
Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia. He was the seventh of 10 children born to William (Octave) Bullard, a black man from Martinique, and Josephine (“Yokalee”) Thomas, an Indigenous Creek woman. Bullard was a student at the 28th Street School in Columbus from 1901 to 1906, completing the 5th Grade. His father’s ancestors had been enslaved in Haiti by a French slave master who later fled during the Haitian Revolution, which abolished slavery. Bullard’s ancestors left the Caribbean for the United States and took refuge with the Native Americans of the Creek tribe. Following the death of his mother, and the near lynching of his father, in 1912, he ran away to Norfolk, Virginia where he stowed away on the German freighter Marta Russ, hoping to escape racial discrimination.
Bullard arrived at Aberdeen, Scotland and first made his way to Glasgow. In London, he boxed and performed slapstick in the Freedman Pickaninnies, an African-American troupe. He trained under the then famous boxer Dixie Kid who arranged for him to fight in Paris. As a result of that visit to Paris, he decided to settle in France. He continued to box in Paris and also worked in a music hall until the start of World War I. As an expat living in France he joined the French Infantry. By 1915, he was a machine gunner and saw combat on the Somme front in Picardy. In May and June, he was at Artois, and in the fall of that year fought in a second Champagne offensive along the Meuse River. He was assigned to the 3rd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment. On July 13, he joined the 2nd Marching Regiment of the 1st Foreign Regiment and also served with the 170th French Infantry known as the swallows of death. While serving with the 170th Infantry, Bullard was seriously wounded in action in March 1916 at the Battle of Verdun and France awarded him the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire.
In 1916 he joined the French air service and he first trained as a gunner but later he trained as a pilot. When American pilots volunteered to help France and formed the famous Lafayette Escadrille, he asked to join but by the time he became a qualified pilot they were no longer accepting new recruits, so he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps instead. He served with French flying units and he completed 20 combat missions. He took part in over twenty combat missions, and he is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft (sources differ). However, the French authorities could not confirm Bullard’s victories. When the United States finally joined the war, Bullard was the only member of the Escadrille or the French Flying Corps who was NOT invited to join the US Air Service. The reason? At that time the Air Service only accepted white men. Some time later, while on a short break from duty in Paris, Bullard allegedly got into an argument with a French commissioned officer and was punished by being transferred to the service battalion of the 170th in January 1918. He served beyond the Armistice, not being discharged until October 24, 1919.
After WWI Bullard became a jazz musician in Paris and he eventually owned a nightclub called ‘L’Escadrille’. When the Germans invaded France and conquered it in WW2, his Club, and Bullard, became hugely popular with German officers, but what they DIDN’T know was that Bullard, who spoke fluent German, was actually working for the Free French as a spy. He eventually joined a French infantry unit defending Orléans on June 15, 1940. He was badly wounded and had to leave the service. He escaped to neutral Spain, and in July 1940 he returned to the United States. By the end of the war, Bullard had become a national hero in France, but he later moved back to the U.S. where he was of course completely unknown.
Practically no one in the United States was aware of Bullard when, in 1959, the French government named him a national Chevalier, or Knight. In 1960, the President of France, Charles DeGaulle, paid a state visit to the United States and when he arrived he said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard. That sent the White House staff scrambling because most of them, of course, had never even heard of him. They finally located him in New York City, and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him personally. At the time, Eugene Bullard was working as … An elevator operator. Not long after Eugene Bullard met with the President of France, he passed away, and today very, very few Americans, and especially African-Americans, even know who he is. But, now YOU do. Hopefully you’ll be able to find opportunities to tell other people about this great American hero that probably only 1 American in 1 Million has ever heard of. [Source: Long Range Ranger Patrol | Bobby Ross | September 15, 2020 ++]
Vietnam Vets 44
David Harker | Recalls His Time as POW
On Dec. 8, 2020, U.S. Army Veteran David Harker celebrated his 75th birthday. He could recognize the accomplishment while on his daily five mile walk, or by taking a drive in his 47-year-old car – a 1973 Corvette he’s owned since it was given to him by classmates when he returned from Vietnam after spending more than five years as a prisoner of war. A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, Harker is the third of seven children. He was an athlete in high school and received his associate’s degree from Bluefield College before transferring to Virginia Tech in 1966. By 1967, however, his fortunes had changed when he was drafted.
“I was doing my junior year at Virginia Tech and my grades were low, so I had to take a quarter off in 1967 and during that time, because I wasn’t a full-time student, I had to let the government know. They got me,” he said. When the draft notice came, Harker’s father, an electrical engineer took the news hard. “My dad was really upset. He had worked for a power company during World War II and so was exempt from the draft,” Harker recalled. “I didn’t think about the possibility of being killed. My dad’s supervisor said he could get me in the National Guard, but I thought that would be shirking my responsibility. I was called on to serve my country and that’s what I was going to do.”
After basic and advanced infantry training, Harker was approached and offered an opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School. “I was interested in flying helicopters, but they said I’d have to extend for another year or two, so I said, ‘no, I’ll do my two and go home’.” The trip to Vietnam brought Harker through Hawaii, and Guam, before landing in Vietnam Nov. 15, 1967. The recollection of arrival is still fresh even 53 years later. “There were men on the airstrip who had finished their year and were going to take the plane we had arrived on back home. So, they open the door and it was such a rude awakening when the door opened. The oppressive heat – and I’m sure Vietnam Vets will tell you – the country had a smell of its own.” The soldiers on their way home watched them deplane and Harker heard them say, ‘there’s my replacement.’ “They wished us well,” Harker said.
Although trained on a vehicle-mounted recoilless rifle, Harker was made an infantryman upon arrival in-country and reassigned from the 9th Infantry Division to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Six weeks later, he was a POW. “I was in the 3rd of the 21st in an area of operations at Que Son,” Harker said. “We operated out of a fire base, with one company pulling security while the other three were out doing search and destroy missions. While out, we’d move about 1,000 meters a day and get resupplied every fourth day with c-rations if the helicopters could get through.” As a 22 year old, Harker was among the older men in his unit. His commanding officer, Capt. Roland Belcher, told the company while they were enjoying in-country R&R at brigade headquarters in Chu Lai, that he was proud of the work they were doing.
“Captain Belcher had been in a province southwest of Saigon where we were providing security for elections,” Harker said. “He said it meant a lot to him that we were able to do that – to make sure those people could go to the polls and not get hurt. I remember that because he died in the rice paddies when we were ambushed.” Harker’s first sergeant, nicknamed Top, was a 41-year old Veteran of World War II and Korea who had earned a Silver Star before joining the company. “After the ambush, he was the ranking person and he held us together.”
Harker and his company were on patrol when they broke contact with the enemy in a creek bed. The North Vietnamese unloaded on the unit and killed two men. As the most forward man, Harker was pinned down. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’ Top is behind me telling me to switch to auto and fire. They tried to get behind us and eventually I hear a Vietnamese voice and do a 90 degree and within arm’s reach at the top of this creek bank is an NVA soldier with a pith helmet and Top is there with no helmet. There’s a guy with a rifle telling me to get up. The NVA are stripping everything off us – anything they can use. I tried to bury my M-16 in the creek bed but I think they got it.”
After being taken, Harker was left with a soldier with a sidearm who walked in front of him, leading him away from the creek. “I thought it was odd he was in front of me and I had been taught that you always try to escape. Next thing I know my hand is over his mouth and I have his arm at his side. I know I have to kill him and do it silently, but his bayonet won’t come out of the scabbard, and by that time my hand has come off his mouth and he’s yelling bloody murder. Before I could get his .45, he stabs me in the side with his bayonet. By that time there are a bunch of rifles pointing at me. I’m surprised they didn’t just shoot me, but they took some commo wire and duck-winged me that night.” Of the 15 men who entered the rice paddy that evening, only four made it out. More men would join Harker in his prison in the Trung Son Mountain Range where he would spend the first three years of captivity. By Harker’s estimation only about 150 U.S. soldiers were captured in South Vietnam – most of whom were taken during the Tet Offensive.
Harker’s first prison was in Quang Nam Province, a difficult, mountainous country that made food scarce and meant deplorable living conditions for the POWs. “We buried nine Americans there,” Harker said. “That’s how horrific our living conditions were. We had very little to eat so people died from starvation, infectious diseases – malaria was rampant – dysentery. Between September of 1968 and Jan. 4, 1969, we buried six, including the youngest person we had there, a 19-year-old Marine. “That first year of adjustment to jungle life was really hard on us. You didn’t know what to do. At first you looked out for yourself, but as time went on, you got more altruistic – you realize, it’s not about me, but about the guy next door and you realize you had to take care of each other. We came together really well in that respect.”
During the Vietnam War only one American doctor was ever taken prisoner. Hal Kushner, who grew up in Danville, Virginia, was injured in a helicopter crash in late November. By 4 DEC, North Vietnamese forces found him and marched him toward the camp where he found, according to a speech he gave in February 2018, “four of the saddest looking American creatures I had ever seen in my life.” Harker said of Kushner, “They wouldn’t let him practice medicine. We couldn’t call him doc, but he was a big source of information and help to us. He led the way and showed us how to nurse and take care of men, and that became our goal – to make people in their last hours and days as comfortable as possible – it was our mission, and he was a big inspiration to us.”
“There wasn’t a place to grow food, so most of our calories came from manioc,” Harker said. “We were under a 1-to-1 prisoner-to-guard ratio, and the guards would trade manioc and so we would put baskets on our backs and go back and forth over miles of mountain trails carrying 70-80 pounds of root. It’s amazing to think that we could even do it, but we did what we had to do. The little bit of rice they gave us as a ration wasn’t enough to keep a bird flying, so the roots kept us going.”
The guards of Trung Son didn’t physically abuse their prisoners. They didn’t need to. “We were separated from civilization in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t communicate; had no food, and no medical attention – that’s torture enough for an individual. We were interrogated when we were captured,” Harker said, “but we knew the Code of Conduct and so we’d give that information. But they’d have a guy with a lantern and they’re asking for information about your unit, it’s size, and I just kept repeating. They didn’t pursue it much. They wanted to get us away from the battlefield but a few days later they did it again. When you have a rifle and you’re in front of the enemy, it’s different. But if they put a blindfold on you and all you can hear is round being chambered – that’s different too. In the north they beat pilots and used a lot of torture techniques.”
On Feb. 1, 1971 there were a dozen men still alive in the mountains and they were taken in groups of six to begin their march north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Harker watched battalions of Vietnamese troops heading south during the 60-day march, as they ground out 10 to 15 miles a day. During the journey an interpreter would give them extra rice. “He was a military guy who had fought in Laos as a 17-year old in the early 1960s, and he looked out for us. I think he understood the condition – there was a common situation and appreciation among soldiers.”
“We’d get to a camp every day where we got hot white rice – better than we had at the mountain camp. The next morning they’d put a ball of rice on a banana leaf and we’d carry that with us for lunch as we moved. Eventually we were put on a train, in a box car, and taken to Hanoi, to Plantation Garden, an old French plantation with bars in the walls. We were kept in a 15×17 warehouse – six of us on a wooden pallet. Unlike the mountain camp we couldn’t roam around, and the boredom would overtake you and the heat was oppressive, but we had plenty to eat compared to the south. We also had better medical care there as they had a doctor to attend to us.” In October of 1972 the Vietnamese allowed prisoners to be outside together for the first time since they arrived, and it looked like the war might be over.
“We had a communication system where we’d put a note on the lid of the waste bucket, or use the tap code, and we had to do that because we were only allowed out of our cell for about an hour a day, and never more than one cell was let out at a time. So, when they let everyone out, and then gave us reading material, they knew it was over. Or they thought it was, because before you know it, the doors are all slammed shut again.”
Soon after, Linebacker II started. From Dec. 18-29, 1972, the U.S. Air Force conducted an operation called Linebacker II, a ‘maximum effort’ campaign to destroy targets using B-52 heavy bombers that dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on more than 30 targets. “B-52s bombed all night long after talks broke down. The SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) shot down a bunch of planes on the third night, after they figured out the flight patterns, and one night they pulled up a deuce and a half and told us to crawl in the back. We thought we were being taken to China.”
Half a world away, in Paris, a peace accord was signed January 27, 1973, and soon after Harker and other American POWs heard the news they had longed to hear. “We were ecstatic,” Harker said. “We’d hear doors open and activity and they came and said, ‘you’re going, and you’re going, and you’re going’ dividing us up into groups that would be repatriated. They gave us western clothing and a travel bag and when they pulled us out of a holding cell wearing our red-striped pajamas we were given the clothes. By noon, nothing had happened. They gave us food and told us the peace agreement was broken – and we were right back down in the depths of despair. But a few days later we got out.
“I remember saluting an Air Force general who was sitting with a North Vietnamese officer, and when we saluted, we had been officially repatriated. On the plane home, the pilot told us when we had entered international airspace and there was a great cheer.” The cheers continued when they landed in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Andrews AFB, Maryland. From Maryland, Harker went to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania where he went through medical treatment and rehabilitation, and he was reunited with his family.
“It was different,” Harker said. “I had brothers who were married, and children had been born, but it was exciting coming home. A private airline flew me and my father back and the local TV station had sent a reporter who interviewed me all the way back. There must have been 10,000 people at the Lynchburg airport when we arrived – I had no idea there would be that welcome and response – my big extended family – the high school band was there. It was a long journey and I was glad to be home and for them to be there for me meant so much. I was led to a blue 1973 Corvette and handed the keys. A group of school mates had gotten together and sold bumper stickers for a dollar each to buy me a car and they handed me the keys and a check for $1,100.” Being home with his family, Harker said he learned how much anxiety and frustration and worry his parents went through while he was captive.
“Every POW gets a casualty assistance officer whose job it is to let the family know when they hear something – anything – about their son,” Harker said. “My family never heard anything from their CAO. It wasn’t until 1969, when three prisoners were released that they knew I was alive. My parents found out that a couple of those who were released were at Fort Jackson, and so they went there and got onto base and met with them and heard from them that I was alive. That’s all they knew for five years. So they became involved in the National League of Families who organized and tried to have some involvement with North Vietnam to get information about prisoners and try to make the process more transparent as far as information was concerned.”
After he returned from Vietnam, Harker took some time off, but eventually returned to Blacksburg and finished his business degree from Virginia Tech in 1976 and found his way to work as a probation and parole officer. In 1977 he married Linda, his high school sweetheart whom he had dated since 1962. His family now includes his two children, Megan and husband Mike, and Adam and his wife Anza. David and Linda also enjoy their grandchildren: 13-year old Emily, 11-year old Ethan, and 6-year old Eli, children of Megan; and Adam’s 23-month old daughter Ava. While Harker is open to discussing his time in Vietnam to serve as an education for younger people, he said it was a part of his life that he’s put behind him.
“Kush and I talk about that all the time – we’re not professional POWs. By the grace of God and the help of other men, we made it out. We all serve our country one way or another. This country is what we love. My life has been a real blessing since then, and the staff at the VA hospital, what they do is marvelous, and I appreciate each one of them. I know they have a heart for those Veterans, or they wouldn’t work there,” Harker said. “I love the Veterans, too, and appreciate their service, and institutions like the VA are a great service to our country.” In the early 2010s Harker had the Corvette he received in 1973 – the car he and his youngest brother Louie drove across the country after his return – restored. He still drives it today. “I think of all the love behind it every time I drive it.” [Source: Stars & Stripes | September 1, 2020 ++]
Military Retirees & Veterans Events Schedule
As of 30 SEP 2020
The Military Retirees & Veterans Events Schedule is intended to serve as a one-stop resource for retirees and veterans seeking information about events such as retirement appreciation days (RAD), stand downs, veterans town hall meetings, resource fairs, free legal advice, mobile outreach services, airshows, and other beneficial community events. The events included on the schedule are obtained from military, VA, veterans service organizations and other reliable retiree\veterans related websites and resources.
The current Military Retirees & Veterans Events Schedule is available in the following three formats. After connecting to the website, click on the appropriate state, territory or country to check for events scheduled for your area.
- HTML: www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.html.
- PDF: www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.pdf.
- Word: www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.doc.
Note that events listed on the Military Retirees & Veterans Events Schedule may be cancelled or rescheduled. Before traveling long distances to attend an event, you should contact the applicable RAO, RSO, event sponsor, etc., to ensure the event will, in fact, be held on the date\time indicated. Also, attendance at some events may require military ID, VA enrollment or DD214. Please report broken links, comments, corrections, suggestions, new RADs and\or other military retiree\veterans related events to the Events Schedule Manager, [email protected] [Source: Retiree\Veterans Events Schedule Manager | Milton Bell | September 30, 2020 ++]
Vet Hiring Fairs
Scheduled As of 30 SEP 2020
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. To participate, sign up for the workshop in addition to registering (if indicated) for the hiring fairs which are shown on the Hiring Our Heroes website www.hiringourheroes.org for the next month. For details of each you should click on the city next to the date Listings of upcoming Vet Job Fairs nationwide providing location, times, events, and registration info if required can be found at the following websites. Note that some of the scheduled events for the next 2 to 6 weeks have been postponed and are awaiting reschedule dates due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. You will need to review each site below to locate Job Fairs in your location:
First Civilian Job
Forty-one percent of veterans surveyed indicated they left their first post-military job within one year. Another 31% indicated said they left their first civilian job to make ends meet and never intended to stay. Another 30% left as the result of finding a better job, while 19% left because the job did not align with their expectations. Only 12% left because the position was terminated or they were laid off. The reasons for staying at a job depend greatly on financial and long-term opportunities in the company. Sixty-five percent of veterans say they will stay at a company for better pay, while 55% stay for a clear path of career growth. Other activities, like veteran resource groups and volunteer activities, seem to have less impact on whether veterans remain or leave their jobs.
[Source: Recruit Military, USCC, and American Legion | September 30, 2020 ++]
Veteran State Benefits
The state of Pennsylvania provides several benefits to veterans as indicated below. To obtain information on these, refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Vet State Benefits – PA” for an overview of the below benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. For a more detailed explanation of each of the following refer to & www.oregon.gov/odva/Pages/index.aspx
- Other State Sponsored Veteran Benefits
[Source: www.dmva.pa.gov/Pages/default.aspx and www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/pennsylvania-state-veterans-benefits.html | September 2020 ++]
* Vet Legislation *
Note: To check status on any veteran related legislation go to www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress for any House or Senate bill introduced in the 116th Congress. Bills are listed in reverse numerical order for House and then Senate. Bills are normally initially assigned to a congressional committee to consider and amend before sending them on to the House or Senate as a whole. To read the text of bills that are to be considered on the House floor in the upcoming week refer to docs.house.gov/floor.
Burn Pit Toxic Exposure
Update 79: S.4572/H.R.7596 | Presumptive Benefits for War Fighter’s Illnesses
Lawmakers introduced legislation 15 SEP that would streamline the process for veterans to receive disability benefits for diseases that may be related to exposure to burn pits and other battlefield pollutants. Bolstered by the support of advocate and comedian Jon Stewart, who successfully led the effort to continue financial support for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA)., announced a bill to remove a Department of Veterans Affairs requirement that veterans prove a link between a dozen diseases and exposure to burn pits and other toxins.
Instead, former service members would only have to provide documentation to the VA that they served at least 15 days in one of 33 countries listed in the proposed legislation. “This is a moral outrage. It’s also a looming crisis that must be addressed. Burn pits are so dangerous that they are outlawed on U.S. soil, but they were used all over the world. … Many of our veterans have no time to spare,” Gillibrand said during a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol. “Service members are coming home from the battlefield only to become delayed casualties of war … drawing parallels to Agent Orange and 9/11 exposures,” said Ruiz, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Burn Pit Caucus.
The monumental proposal could have an impact on more than 3 million veterans who have served since Aug. 2, 1990, in one of the countries and have a listed illness, similar to the landmark Agent Orange Act of 1991, which designated more than a dozen diseases as presumed to be caused by exposure to toxic herbicides used in Vietnam.
- The illnesses include: asthma diagnosed after deployment to a listed country or territory; any type of cancer; chronic bronchitis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; constrictive bronchiolitis; emphysema; granulomatous disease; interstitial lung disease; lymphoma; pleuritis; pulmonary fibrosis; and sarcoidosis.
- The countries and territories listed include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Diego Garcia, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
Danielle Robinson’s husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, deployed with the Ohio National Guard to Iraq in 2006, where he worked at Camp Liberty, nicknamed “Camp Trashcan” for its large burn pit. Robinson later developed a rare type of lung cancer that his doctor said “could only be due to toxic exposure.” He died in May. Robinson said she was denied by the VA caregiver program even though she needed to quit her job as a physical therapist to care for her husband as he struggled with his illnesses. “My husband is dead because America has poisoned its soldiers,” Robinson said during the press conference.
More than 250 burn pits operated at U.S. military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, used to dispose of all types of garbage, including plastics, batteries, tires, computers, office equipment, animal carcasses, household trash and hospital waste. Concern over the health threat they posed initially arose in 2006, when Air Force Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a bioenvironmental flight commander for Joint Base Balad, Iraq, noted that the 10-acre-wide burn pit there posed a “acute health hazard for individuals” and the “possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke.” But troops and military contractors weren’t made aware of the potential hazard until Army Times journalist Kelly Kennedy first began reporting on the issue in 2008.
In addition to respiratory illnesses, young service members have developed cancers and other illnesses not usually seen in people their age. After years of silence on the issue of his son Beau Biden’s death from glioblastoma, a brain cancer, presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden told PBS reporter Judy Woodruff in 2018 that burn pits may have a “carcinogenic impact on the body.” The National Academy of Sciences released a report 11 SEP concluding that, while there is scientific evidence to link chronic respiratory symptoms like wheezing and coughing to burn pits, few studies exist that could conclusively connect exposure to burn pits and other airborne pollutants to diseases seen in veterans. An 11-member advisory panel said their conclusions did not mean there is no link, only that the research or data did not exist to prove one.
The VA also has consistently cited a 2011 report by the same scientific advisory body that there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions on the long-term health effects of burn pits. Stewart called the arguments “bull—-.” “The only difference between the first responders at Ground Zero who are dying of toxic exposures is that was caused as a result of a terrorist attack. … Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from the same illnesses and same exposures as the result of the actions of our own government,” Stewart said. More than 212,000 veterans have enrolled in VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, a congressionally mandated database for veterans to self-report their deployments and any health-related consequences.
In addition to airborne exposures, the bill would cover former service members affected by contact to chemical weapons, nerve agents or other battlefield toxins, such as those encountered by troops assigned to Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, according to Gillibrand. The bill, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, has little chance of passing in the last 24 days of the legislative year. But Stewart said that he, along with advocate John Feal and numerous veterans service organizations, will continue fighting. “We always have money for the war. We never have money for the warfighter,” Stewart said. “Today, we plant the flag, and we are going to exhibit the relentlessness of the warfighter.” [Source: Military.com | Patricia Kime | September 15, 2020 ++]
Military Sexual Harassment/Assault
Update 09: H.R.8270 | Improve DOD Responses to Sex-Related Offenses
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill 16 SEP to amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the responses of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses, and for other purposes named for Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen that supporters believe could lead to reforms that will make it easier for victims to report sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. The bill is named after the 20-year-old whose disappearance and alleged murder by a fellow soldier at Fort Hood triggered a significant response among victims of sexual assault and harassment in the military after the family alleged that she had experienced sexual harassment at the installation but was hesitant to step forward with the allegations. A large number of sexual assault and sexual harassment victims stepped forward via social media using the viral hasthag, #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN, to describe similar experiences where they did not report incidents because of the concerns they had about the military’s reporting system.
Army criminal investigators were unable to prove that sexual harassment played a role in Guillen’s case, but the Army continues to investigate the family’s allegations. Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) are the main sponsors for the bill that would reform how the military deals with sexual harassment in the ranks. The measure is co-sponsored by more than 70 other members in the House including Reps. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), John Carter (R-TX), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Pete Olson (R-TX), Jason Crow (R-CO), and a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.
“The status quo is unacceptable. And we’re not going to tolerate it anymore,” Speier said at a news conference held outside the Capitol to unveil the proposed legislation. “While we can never bring Vanessa back, we honor her memory with this bill,” she added. Mullin said it was the right time to implement the reforms called for in the bill, but “unfortunately, it took Vanessa’s death to make that timing right.” “All of us have families and it became very personal to us, Mullin said. “We’re suffering a crisis of sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. military,” said Lupe Guillen, Vanessa’s Guillen’s sister, who was among other family members on hand for the news conference. “Nothing justifies what is happening to people like Vanessa,” she said. “Vanessa Guillen fought for us. And now it’s time to fight for her.”
The proposed legislation calls for third-party investigations of military sexual misconduct claims, a move that would sidestep the current system where unit commanders have a say as to whether a case should proceed to a criminal prosecution. It also calls for making sexual harassment, which is currently considered misconduct, to be listed as a separate crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Because they are under different policies, the reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases in the military are handled differently by the U.S. military. The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to review how the military services each handle the cases of missing service members.
The bill comes after months of press conferences, marches, hearings, and lobbying on behalf of Vanessa Guillen by her family members, members of Congress, and women veterans. The family even met with President Donald Trump at the end of July to share their story and explain their efforts. Guillén was attacked with a hammer and her body was dismembered with a machete. In early 2019, the Pentagon announced that it would make sexual harassment a crime, but the process to make that a reality is still underway and will soon be in effect according to a Pentagon spokesperson. Following the news conference Guillen’s family met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who promised them that the bill would come to a full vote on the House floor. “Justice is needed for Vanessa and for the many service members facing an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in our armed forces, too often in the shadows,” Pelosi said in a statement. [Source: ABC News | Luis Martinez & Benjamin Siegel September 16, 2020 ++]
Servicemembers Lease Protections
Update 01: S.4566 | Modernizing Notice of Lease Terminations
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation 14 SEP that would allow service members to break residential or car leases more easily should they be relocated. The bill is an update to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which, among other things, allows service members to break leases without penalty if they are required to be relocated or deployed for longer than 90 days. Under the existing law, service-members must give notice of breaking the lease in writing. The update seeks to allow that notice to be given electronically.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a co-sponsor of the bill Modernizing Notice of Lease Terminations for Servicemembers Act of 2020 and member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said the ability to electronically notify landlords and car leasing companies is particularly critical for service members because they may already be in another location when they need to make the notification. “Our service members and their families make incredible sacrifices to keep our country safe, so we should take every opportunity to make it easier for them to manage major financial transactions like residential and car leases,” she said 16 SEP. “Our bipartisan bill is a sensible, overdue update to the law that ensures servicemembers can deliver valid, enforceable notice of lease terminations electronically.”
Sen. Robert Portman (R-OH) said the update to the law is especially important right now because “the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing us to reconsider the ways we conduct transactions.” The group of senators, which included Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Boozman (R-AR), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the legislation 14 SEP and it has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs for consideration. [Source: UPI | Danielle Haynes | September 16, 2020 ++]
Suicide Prevention Legislation
Lawmakers Take Major Step to Advance Package of Bills
House lawmakers took a major step on 16 SEP to advance a package of bills aimed at preventing veteran suicide, part of a deal with senators to pass legislation from both chambers. The House Veterans Affairs Committee voted to move five bills to the House floor Thursday, including the Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment (COMPACT) Act. That bill contains several measures aimed at improving veteran mental health care, including:
- A bill from Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, to provide emergency mental health care for all veterans in crisis;
- Efforts to better inform and train veterans’ family members to create better support networks;
- A requirement for VA to reach out to veterans who haven’t been to the department for care in two or more years so they know what benefits and help is available;
- More de-escalation and crisis intervention training for VA police;
- A requirement for VA to analyze its programs intended to help women veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, to find ways to improve those programs;
- A requirement for VA to complete an annual report on locations where women vets are using VA health care.
That package of legislation is intended to complement and “fill gaps” in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Healthcare Improvement Act, an omnibus bill that passed the Senate in August. That bill aims to improve veteran mental health care by providing grants to community organizations working to help veterans in crisis, ordering VA to study complementary and alternative care such as yoga and animal therapy, studying the expansion of care to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges and hiring more suicide prevention coordinators for each VA hospital.
After the Hannon bill passed the Senate, lawmakers, veteran advocates and even VA Secretary Robert Wilkie increasingly pressured the House to quickly pass the legislation, or risk endangering more lives. But in the House, Takano and other lawmakers argued the bill was incomplete without several of their measures and pushed for passage of their own package. Over the last two weeks, Takano and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, (R-KS), have worked on a deal to get the Hannon bill and House suicide prevention priorities passed before October. During Thursday’s House hearing, Takano said the aim is to send both legislation packages to the House floor for votes next week. If they pass the House, the Hannon bill heads directly to the president’s desk for final approval to become law. The COMPACT Act would still have to get approval in the Senate before it too can move on to the White House.
Takano said 17 SEP he believed the Hannon bill will pass the House, and that his committee’s COMPACT Act will pass the House “unanimously.” He pledged to continue working with Moran and the Senate committee to pass veterans’ legislation out of both chambers. Ranking member Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), who plans to retire at the end of this session of Congress, said he was proud the committee had, at last, reached an agreement to advance major veteran suicide prevention legislation. “That has been our stated priority this Congress and I am grateful that we will finally pass comprehensive legislation … after almost two full years of promises,” he said.
VA data shows about 20 veterans and service members die by suicide daily. That number has remained largely stagnate or worsened in recent years despite increased spending and programs aimed at helping. The data typically lags behind by two years, though, making it difficult to determine whether efforts have been effective. The House legislation package headed to the floor leaves out some previous proposals, including bills intended to improve mental health care for Native veterans and increase firearms safety. Native Americans and Native Alaskans serve in the United States military at higher rates than any other groups but remain one of the most disadvantaged subsets of veterans, with one of the highest suicide rates. Takano said last week that the rate of suicide among Native veterans is “astronomically high.” The American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act would require VA to document “culturally competent” outreach and mental health care provided to Native veterans.
Firearms are a leading cause of suicide among veterans and are involved in nearly 70% of veteran suicide deaths, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Advocates have said for years that efforts to curb veteran suicide should include measures to increase firearms safety, but opponents have argued repeatedly that such measures could violate veterans’ constitutional rights. The Lethal Means Safety Training Act would expand VA’s lethal means safety training for each of its employees and contractors who work with veterans. Increasing firearms safety was also among top priorities for the recently revealed White House suicide prevention plan.
Other measures to require VA to install a suicide prevention coordinator at each of its locations, launch a survey for veterans on whether VA should provide appointments outside standard business hours and more also did not make it into the final package, but that doesn’t mean the bills are dead. They remain as standalone legislation and could still pass if they receive a House floor vote and then approval from the Senate in turn. “I can promise that this isn’t going to be the last conversation or the only legislation we consider regarding veteran suicide prevention,” Takano said to open Thursday’s hearing. “We will pick up where we left off on lethal means training and the Zero Suicide demonstration. We can do more to ensure women veterans and veterans of color have an easier pathway to VA benefits and health care … We can and will continue to focus on reducing veteran suicide.”
But time is running out for Congress to pass any significant legislation this year. A limited number of legislative days remain on the calendars for each chamber as a major election looms and this session of Congress comes to a close with major legislation left undone, including finalizing the National Defense Authorization Act and any additional pandemic relief efforts. If any of the bills don’t pass by the end of 2020, lawmakers will have to reintroduce them in the next session of Congress and start the process again. [Source: ConnectingVets.com | Abbie Bennett | September 17, 2020 ++]
Military Survivor Benefits
Update 04: S.4594 | Caring for the Survivors & Families of Veterans Act of 2020
As the United States enters into the 19th year of the War on Terror, a grateful nation remembers the service and sacrifice of those who have defended us. One of the most important ways we honor our fallen service members and service-disabled veterans is by providing appropriate monetary support for their surviving dependents. S. 4594, the Caring for the Survivors and Families of Veterans Act of 2020, would ease the eligibility criteria for Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to allow additional survivors to receive the benefit. Specifically, the measure would:
- Expand eligibility for DIC by replacing the “10-year” rule with a graduated scale of benefits that begins at five years for initial eligibility at 50% and gradually reaches the full benefit at 10 years after determination of disability. For example—if a veteran is rated as totally disabled for five years and dies of a nonservice-connected cause, their survivor would be entitled to 50% of the DIC benefit.
- Reduce from 57 to 55 years, the age a surviving spouse may remarry and maintain their benefits, consistent with eligibility for other federal benefits for survivors.
This bill is the companion to H.R. 6933, the Caring for Survivors Act, which was introduced in May 2020. DAV strongly supports the Caring for the Survivors and Families Act of 2020 in accordance with DAV Resolution No. 360, which calls for reform and improvement of DIC. Readers are requested to use the following DAVe prepared e-mail or draft their own message to request that their Senator support this important bill.
[Source: DAV | Stephen Whitehead & Diane J. Franz | September 21, 2020 ++]
House Vet Bill Progress
16 thru 30 SEP 2020
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is preventing veteran suicide, and 23 SEP was an important step forward as the House voted to pass the Senate’s Veterans’ COMPACT Act. This legislation will enhance veterans’ mental health and well-being, and prevent deaths by suicide by supporting women veterans, eliminating cost for emergency mental health care, and providing critical support during the transition from servicemember to veteran. This bill will now go to the president for signature. In all the House unanimously passed the following 5 bills for veterans brought to the floor by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:
- S. 785 – Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 (Tester, Moran): provides additional tools and reporting that will inform continued efforts to address the multifaceted and complex challenge of veteran suicide. The bill will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six major ways:
- Bolstering VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.
- Improving rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services.
- Implementing a pilot program to provide veterans access to complementary and integrative health programs through animal therapy, agritherapy, sports and recreation therapy, art therapy and post-traumatic growth.
- Establishing a grant program that requires VA to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans. This collaboration will result in earlier identification of veterans who are at risk of suicide and will provide the ability to intervene with preventative services.
- Studying the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other conditions.
- Holding the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the Department manages its suicide prevention resources.
- H.R. 5245 – SHIELD for Veterans Act, as amended (Pappas): reforms VA’s debt collection process to remedy the gross inefficiencies revealed in VA’s process and the financial hardship such issues have created for veterans.
- H.R. 7105 – the Dependable Employment and Living Improvements for Veterans’ Economic Recovery (DELIVER) Act, as amended (Levin): includes six provisions to help ensure we can support our most vulnerable veterans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by providing food, safe shelter, and access to VA telehealth services.
H.R. 8247 – Veterans’ COMPACT Act, as amended (Takano): contains nine provisions to further enhance veterans’ mental health and well-being, and prevent deaths by suicide by supporting women veterans, eliminating cost for emergency mental health care, and providing critical support during the transition from servicemember to veteran.
- H.R. 3798 – Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act, as amended (Brownley): ensures all women veterans have access to the same no-cost contraceptive care as their non-veteran counterparts.
In addition on 22 SEP the House unanimously passed all six following bipartisan bills brought to the floor by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. This legislation will update VA’s exclusionary motto, eliminate VA copayments for native veterans that never should have been charged, and hold VA leadership accountable for the needed fixes to VA’s financial systems.
- H.R. 3010- Honoring All Veterans Act (Rice, Mast): directs VA to modify its current exclusionary motto to recognize the service of women and LGBTQ veterans throughout our country’s history.
- H.R. 4908 – Native American PACT Act, as amended (Gallego): prohibits VA from collecting a copayment from any veteran who is a member of a tribe– copays that never should have happened because of US treaty obligations to native people.
- H.R. 6589 – Department of Veterans Affairs Chief Financial Officer Authority and Collaboration Act of 2020, as amended (Lee): holds VA leadership accountable in their efforts to fix VA’s financial system that sometimes leaves VA vulnerable to risk and bad financial decisions.
- H.R. 3228 – VA Mission Telehealth Clarification Act, as amended (Carter): corrects an error in the MISSION Act by allowing VA trainees to use the telemedicine system.
- H.R. 6092 – Veteran’s Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act, as amended (Cunningham, Dunn): creates a standardized clinical pathway for prostate cancer detection and treatment for veterans at VA.
- H.R. 7795 – Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act of 2020 (Luria, Barr): protects veterans applying for VA disability benefits by requiring the VA to maintain availability of disability benefits questionnaires (DBQs) on the VA website.
The Senate must now pass H.R. 7795, S. 4393, and S. 4511 in their entirety.
[Source: veterans.house.gov/news/press-releases/table | Mark Takano | September 23, 2020 ++]
Senate Vet Bill Progress
16 thru 30 SEP 2020
On 23 SEP, the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) advanced two bills to provide greater access to health care for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their service and to expand select veteran benefits.
- S. 4393, the Toxic Exposure in the American Military Act of 2020 (TEAM Act), introduced by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and co-sponsored by Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member of SVAC, would reform the way the Department of Veterans Affairs evaluates and provides care for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service.
- S. 4511, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act, would modernize select programs and benefits for servicemembers, veterans, and their families, including education benefits, legal protections, and expanded benefits for survivors and members of the National Guard and Reserve.
“These two important bills help our veterans receive greater access to medical care and the benefits they have earned. I will continue working to advance these bills through the Senate to make certain our veterans receive the resources they need to succeed in their life after service.” said Chairman Moran. “After nearly two years of tireless work by our Coalition, we are grateful to see S. 4393, The TEAM Act of 2020, take another critical step in becoming reality. Servicemembers and veterans who are suffering from Toxic Exposure related illnesses are in desperate need for quality care. We urge the Senate to pass S. 4393 immediately.” – The Toxic Exposures in The American Military Coalition (TEAM). [Source: Vietnam Veterans of America | September 23, 2020 ++]
* Military *
Military Absentee Voting
How to Register and Vote
The 2020 Presidential Election is fast approaching – with the U.S. General Election voting scheduled for Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Most people vote in their state of residency. However, military members and their dependents don’t always have that luxury, as their duty assignment may take them far from home. If you are unable to vote in your state of residency due to a PCS, Deployment, TDY, or other reasons, then it’s a good idea to register to vote by absentee ballot. And if you have not registered to vote by absentee ballot, now is the time to do it—particularly if you are deployed or stationed overseas. Military members and their dependents ages 18 and up who are U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in the general election. You can still vote even if you cannot do so in person. There are two easy ways to do this: visit your unit or installation voting assistance officer, or go to the Federal Assistance Voting Program home page. www.fvap.gov.
How to Register for an Absentee Ballot
To register and request an absentee ballot, simply fill out the Voter Registration/Ballot Request Form (Federal Post Card Application, FPCA, SF 76) and mail it to your local election office. You can fill it out online at www.fvap.gov/fpca-privacy-notice, or you can obtain a copy from your installation voting assistance officer. You can also obtain a Voter Registration/Ballot Request Form from the nearest US Consulate or Embassy, or the Voters Assistance Office if your base has one. Most units are also assigned a Unit Voting Assistance Officer who should be able to assist you with this information.
Filling out the Federal Post Card Application
Start by visiting the FCPA page. You will need to agree to the privacy terms. Then you will need to fill out the required information, verify it is correct, print it out, sign it, then mail it to your respective voting office (this is generally the county in which you are a resident).
Information Required to Register for Absentee Ballot
You will be required to provide the following information:
- Jurisdiction (county, parish, etc.)
- Your classification as a voter (are you serving in the military, are you living overseas, etc.)
- Personal information, including your name, DOB, SSN, and contact information.
- Your current residence and mailing address
- The method you would like to receive your ballot
- Which election(s) you wish to receive a ballot for
Once you provide the required information, you can review your ballot request then print your document. Then sign it and mail it to your election office. After your registration has been approved, your local Election Official will mail your ballot. Complete the absentee ballot and return it to your Election Official and your vote will be counted.
U.S. General Election Voting Deadlines: While the majority of US Citizens on the US Mainland will vote on November 3rd, absentee ballots need to be sent in earlier in order to be processed and to have your vote count. The Federal Voting Assistance Program recommends mailing your absentee ballot by the following dates:
- October 5th if you are on a ship at sea
- October 13th if you are located overseas
- October 27th if you are located in the U.S.
Remember, you can send in your vote earlier than these dates. So it’s best to act immediately if you are serving overseas.
Mailing Your Absentee Ballot
Be sure to follow your state’s voting guidelines before mailing in your ballot. Some states require you to mail your ballot inside two envelopes, while other states may require you to have a witness sign your ballot. Failing to follow all the rules for your state may result in your ballot being tossed. Mail your absentee ballot via US mail or another mail service. If mailing from outside the U.S., ensure there is proper postage if using a foreign mail service. As always, you can contact your election office to ensure they received your information by sending them an email or giving them a call!
Track Your Ballot. The Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA) provides free expedited ballot delivery and ballot tracking for overseas military members. They will place the Label 11- DOD on your ballot envelope, which allows you to track your ballot en route to your election office at www.usps.com. Many states also make it easy to track the status of your vote at www.businessinsider.com/how-to-track-the-status-of-your-mail-in-ballot-2020-9.
For more information: If you’d like more information on the Federal Voting Assistance Program or need help with the absentee voting process please visit FVAP.gov for live chat assistance, call FVAP at 1-800-438-VOTE or DSN 425-1584 (CONUS)/312-425-1584 (OCONUS), or email [email protected].
What if Your Absentee Ballot Doesn’t Arrive in Time?
You can still vote in the General Election. However, you will need to use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) www.fvap.gov/fwab-privacy-notice. You will be required to provide the same information you have to provide when registering for an absentee ballot. However, you will also use this form to vote for the candidates of your choice when you fill out this form. Note that there are no names on this form, so you will be required to write them in manually. So be sure to have the names of the individuals you wish to vote for prior to starting this process. You can vote for the President/Vice President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Representative, and local candidates.
Where can I get more information about absentee voting?
The FVAP website is the official government voting website. They have an absentee voting guide www.fvap.gov/guide/chapter1 with a lot of great information on how to register to vote, start the process, how to contact your voting agency, and more. The Voting Assistance Guide (pdf) has more specific information regarding state voting guidelines, cutoff dates, and much more.
Be sure to vote this year!
[Source: The Military Wallet | Ryan Guina | September 24, 2020 ++]
Push-Ups, PT Okayed as Punishment for Minor Infractions
The Army recently published an update to its command policy that encourages sergeants to drop Soldiers for push-ups or order extra physical training to correct minor screw-ups as an alternative to stiffer non-judicial punishments. Last updated in 2014, the 213-page Army Regulation 600-20 is designed to offer command guidance for commanders across the Army includes updates to corrective training, sexual harassment reporting and extremist activity on Leaders at all levels across the Army “have an obligation to know, enforce, and take appropriate action in accordance with Army Command Policy,” Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston said in the release.
- The regulation includes “specified authority” for noncommissioned officers to correct minor soldier infractions with “brief forms of exercise.”
- “The changes empower NCOs to lean on nonpunitive measures as a form of corrective training to address minor deficiencies,” Sgt. Maj. Jasmine Johnson, the command policy sergeant major, said in the release.
According to the regulation, “physical exercises are an acceptable form of corrective training for minor acts of indiscipline (for example, requiring the soldier to do push-ups for arriving late to formation), so long as it does not violate the Army’s policies prohibiting hazing, bullying, and unlawful punishment.” Nonpunitive corrective measures can include the denial of pass or other privileges or extra training. The regulation warns that leaders should monitor subordinates to make sure nonpunitive practices don’t deteriorate into hazing. One of the most effective nonpunitive corrective measures is extra training or instruction, according to the regulation. “For example, if Soldiers appear in an improper uniform, they are required to correct it immediately; if they do not maintain their government housing area properly, they must correct the deficiency in a timely manner,” the regulation states. “If Soldiers have training deficiencies, they will be required to take extra training or instruction in subjects related to the shortcoming.”
Another update to the regulation requires commanders to notify their Soldiers that they cannot possess a firearm or ammunition if they have a qualifying conviction of domestic violence, according to the release. The change comes after a domestic violence working group years ago identified a gap in the previous AR 600-20, Lt. Col. Melissa Comiskey, chief of command policy for the Army’s G-1 office, said in the release. The regulation also expands the policy on extremist group activities by incorporating social media for the first time, as well as command options for violations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. “Social media was not addressed in the previous regulation,” Comiskey said. “Also, the requirement for commanders to notify either their [staff judge advocate] or [criminal investigation division] when there’s any type of reports of extremist activities in their organization.”
The regulation includes numerous changes related to sexual assault/harassment policies. Policies from several Army and Defense Department directives have also been moved under the authority of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. The SHARP program is now responsible for sexual harassment complaints instead of the Military Equal Opportunity Office, Comiskey said. Criteria for a sexual assault incident response oversight report, as well as a commander’s critical information requirement, have been added as well, too, the release states. “The Army hopes to foster a culture of dignity, respect, and inclusion,” Johnson said in the release. “It’s a guide to ensure Soldiers are being treated fairly, and commanders are able to maintain good order and discipline in their ranks.” [Source: Together We Served | September 2020 ++]
Candidate’s Military/Veteran Plans
In responses to a questionnaire compiled by the Military Officers Association of America, the presidential candidates promised a strong focus on military and veterans issues but varied approaches on their goals of helping troops and their families. The statements — from President Donald Trump, Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden and Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen — offer the most detailed insight so far from the campaigns’ plans for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Trump’s answers largely center around his past claims that he has “rebuilt the military” in less than four years in office, putting the country on stronger national footing. Biden, who served as vice president under Barack Obama, attacks Trump as more focused on inflated spending than actual security policy, and promises a more focused and effective approach.
MOAA officials, who made the candidate responses public on 16 SEP, said they reached out to the campaigns to provide non-partisan but highly focused answers on questions related to the military community. The organization describes itself as “the nation’s largest and most influential association of military officers.” “We wanted to go beyond the soundbites for our membership,” said retired Col. Dan Merry, vice president of government relations for MOAA. “When candidates discuss military and veteran issues on the campaign trail they hit the high notes and play to a wide audience. Our members have a deeper understanding, and a much deeper involvement, with these topics.”
Jorgensen, who has also run as her party’s vice presidential nominee in past election cycles, advocates for significant upheaval in defense and VA programs. She calls for significant decreases in military funding and wholesale dismantling of VA operations, to be replaced with vouchers for veterans to receive care. The two major party candidates offer less radical but still contrasting approaches on a host of Pentagon and VA plans. Following is a look at some of the key differences:
In the candidate questionnaire, both Trump highlighted three years of defense spending increases as evidence of his commitment to national security. “Our military, quite frankly, was very depleted and the Obama-Biden administration failed to give our military forces what they needed,” the president wrote. “Within three years of record military investment, our country has rejected a future of American decline and embraced our destiny of American dominance.” Echoing his past comments about NATO, Trump said that America’s allies “must step up to the plate and fulfill their end of the bargain so that America can focus our resources on challenges abroad and at home.”
In contrast, Biden pledged to “maintain our (military) superiority,” but added that “we must do so affordably.” He accused Trump of wasting money on “aging legacy capabilities” and not smarter investments such as unmanned vehicles and artificial intelligence systems. “And we have to invest in our other elements of national power,” the former vice president wrote. “Our military is one tool in our toolbox. We have become over-dependent on the military to advance our security interests overseas and underinvested in other tools including diplomacy, economic power, education, and science and technology.” Biden also noted that “we do not need large deployments of combat forces to maintain our security” and promised a full review of American overseas presence, something which Trump has also focused on in his term of office.
Military pay and families
Both candidates promised to maintain strong military pay, but Biden accused Trump of shortchanging the federal workforce as a whole on pay equity with private sector cost of living. He pledged to provide an additional allowance for military families living at or below the poverty line, a policy which the current administration has opposed. Biden also promised to relaunch the Obama-era Joining Forces program, which focused on issues of post-military employment and military family assistance. “The Bidens are a military family, and we know that military families serve too,” wrote Biden, whose son, Beau, served in the Delaware Army National Guard. “After two decades of sustained warfare it is our duty to ensure that military families have the necessary support to thrive.”
Trump noted that under his administration, troops saw their largest pay raise in a decade. He also pledged to improve privatized military housing after several years of scandal regarding sub-par living conditions for some families. “Military spouses help carry families through frequent moves and long deployments,” he wrote. “They uplift communities, care for fellow military families, and sustain service members through their most difficult battles.” Both candidates referenced improvements to military child care options in their statements. Trump offered support for expanded daycare on bases included in the annual defense authorization bill under consideration on Capitol Hill. Biden pledged to “fully fund” installation day care and expand awareness of financial assistance programs.
Trump has made veterans programs a cornerstone of his re-election campaign, touting passage of the Mission Act — “enabling veterans in the VA to receive care in the private community whenever it’s in their best interest” — and plans underway to unify the Defense Department and VA electronic medical records. “I have also strengthened the VA’s hospital system,” he wrote. “As policymakers across the spectrum realize, the VA also needs to be the right size to address veteran needs in the future, focusing resources on the areas where its impact can be greatest.”
Biden said he’ll make expanded care and benefits for illnesses related to burn pit exposure a priority of his administration, saying “we must never again have an Agent Orange-like crisis.” He also promised to “strike the right balance between VA and community care, but do it in a timely, responsible, and accountable way for our veterans.” Critics have attacked Trump for outsourcing too much of VA medical care to private-sector hospitals and clinics. Biden also pledged to “take seriously the crises of veteran suicide and homelessness.” The latter saw dramatic improvements during Obama’s term in office, with the number of homeless veterans decreasing by half from 2010 to 2016. The suicide rate among veterans has remained steady since reliable tracking began during Obama’s presidency, despite efforts from him and Trump to address the issue.
Recruiting and the draft
Asked about the challenges of convincing Americans to sign up for military service, Trump stated that “the best recruitment tool for an all-volunteer force is a well-transitioned veteran.” He said investments in military readiness will help make the service more attractive, but his administration’s initiatives to give separating service members more assistance in their first year after the military is key to maintaining a healthy fighting force. Trump has pushed for military end strength increases in recent years, but Biden argued that the United States “does not need a larger military.” He said he wants targeted recruiting efforts for women, minorities and highly-skilled individuals.
The former vice president also vowed that he would “ensure that women are also eligible to register for the Selective Service System, so that men and women are treated equally in the event of future conflicts.” Trump has opposed that idea.
The full candidate questionnaire is available on the MOAA website www.moaa.org/content/publications-and-media/news-articles/2020-news-articles/election-2020-presidential-candidates-answer-moaas-questions. There you can read the candidate’s full responses to the following questions:
Q. The Defense Department continues to align its requirements with the 2018 National Defense Strategy, shaping the upcoming DoD budget request to be unveiled shortly after the start of a new presidential term. Do you think military spending levels should increase or decrease? What would your priorities be for military spending?
Q. Pay and service-earned benefits for servicemembers are seen by some as costing too much, but others would gladly pay more. How would your administration view military pay raises year to year among competing budget priorities?
Q. What do you consider to be the greatest threat to U.S. interests overseas? How, if at all, would you change the U.S. military presence in hot spots around the world? Do you consider the U.S. military to be overcommitted, or undercommitted, to missions and security concerns in other countries, or at an appropriate level?
Q. With recent increases in military spending, what is your view of the strength and readiness of the armed forces now? What do you think the services need in order to be prepared to face current threats around the world?
Q. Relatively few Americans have served in the military, and many have no interaction with servicemembers, leading to what’s termed the military-civilian divide. What would you do to promote military service? What changes, if any, would you make to the Selective Service System?
Q. With many thousands of veterans in need of care and support services for decades to come, and with many facing potentially long-term effects from warfighting such as traumatic brain injury and burn-pit or other service-connected exposures, how should the VA adapt for them now and in the future? With VA undergoing a massive health system reform over the last year, what challenges and improvements have you experienced or seen from these changes? What changes or improvements, if any, would you want to see in VA health care and benefit programs?
Q. The Defense Department is undergoing a years-long process of reforming its health care system. DoD recently announced that many of its military treatment facilities will no longer serve military family members and retirees, affecting an estimated 200,000 beneficiaries, coupled with a proposed reduction of 18,000 medical personnel positions, resulting in many seeking health care in the private sector. What do you think should be the priorities for military health care reform?
Q. Changes to the military medical and retirement systems are among a number of proposals to save money. How would you view spending on these and other quality-of-life issues, such as privatized housing and child care to attract talent to the services and retain servicemembers?
Q. Last year, Defense Secretary Mark Esper added a fourth prong to the national defense strategy: military family readiness. What do you see as the biggest issues military families face and how would your administration address these concerns?
Q. Historically, the interwar periods for the United States have been characterized by large cuts to the military, abruptly punctuated by a crisis and a buildup of forces with a tech-driven “revolution in military affairs” (RMA) born out of necessity. Do you think the COVID-19 crisis represents a national security crisis and necessitates an RMA?
[Source: MilitaryTimes | Leo Shane III | September 16, 2020 ++]
USMC Maternity Leave
12 Weeks Not Enough – More Sought
The Marine Corps is struggling to retain women, the service’s top general said this week, because many feel they must choose between a military career and their family. Commandant Gen. David Berger said the 12 weeks of maternity leave Marines get after having a baby are not enough. It’s a topic he’s been pushing since last year, when he said he’d consider extending the Marine Corps’ maternity leave policy to a full year. Berger said he’s “not there yet,” but vowed to keep fighting for it.
“Many of our very capable women Marines are leaving because they think it’s either the Marine Corps, or a family, and they can’t see how they can have it both ways,” Berger said on Thursday during a Women in Defense Leadership Symposium. “We have got to solve that dilemma.” But there’s a law that he must work on getting changed, he added, referencing the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act. That act, which was signed into law last year, gives parents up to 12 weeks off for the birth, adoption or fostering of a new child — but that’s the cap. Those benefits go into effect 1 OCT. “It’s not just a Department of Defense policy,” Berger said, “[But] I’m not anywhere near ready to quit on it.”
Berger’s planning guidance, issued to the force last year, said the Marine Corps’ parental-leave policies have failed to keep up with societal normal and modern talent management practices. “We fully support the growth of our Marine families, and will do everything possible to provide parents with opportunities to remain with their newborns for extended periods of time,” he wrote. “In the future, we will consider up to one year leaves-of-absence for mothers to remain with their children before returning to full duty to complete their service obligations.” The extension would be a notable change for the military, which has been slow to embrace some forward-leaning personnel policies. The Navy and Marine Corps briefly had an 18-week maternity leave policy that was later rolled back to 12 by the defense secretary at the time.
Troops are currently eligible for a career-intermission program, which allows them to take up to three years off in exchange for an agreement to serve more time once they come back. But the program has been slow to catch on in a culture where mission is often valued above anything else. Berger said Marines see a program like that and assume their career will suffer if they take advantage of it — that they’re going to see their peers move ahead while they’re left behind. “We’ve got to solve that problem because we should be able to create a process where they can step out, come back in and not lose anything,” he said. “Could be for an education, could be to have a family — we have to get a lot more flexible.” Military.com recently reported on the plight of female service members who returned to duty just weeks after having a baby. One faced criticism for taking too many breaks to pump breast milk for her new baby.
The Defense Department is conducting a review to stamp out policies that inadvertently discriminate against some personnel. Berger this week stressed the importance of diversity in the ranks. Women and minority officers too often opt out of being considered for command, he said, leaving the force with more white male leaders. “[I] firmly believe that war is going to get only more complex, so we’re going to need a diverse force to solve the problems that are in front of us,” he added. [Source: Military.com | Gina Harkins | September 11, 2020 ++]
Marine Corps Boot Camp
Update 02: Closing/Relocation Plan under Consideration
The Marine Corps is considering a plan in which it could close its two existing boot camp locations and funnel all recruits to a new base where men and women would train together. Marine entry-level training is a long way off from being able to meet a congressional mandate to make its East and West coast training bases both able to support gender-integrated training in the coming years, the Corps’ top general said on 24 SEP. That is leading the service to study the option of opening a third training base in a new location to which all new recruits would ship, rather than spending cash on construction projects at aging training bases. “Nothing, the way we’re organized right now, lends itself to integrated recruit training,” Commandant Gen. David Berger said on Thursday. “If that’s our start point — and it is — we have to get to a place on both coasts, or at third location or whatever we end up with, that … there are male and female recruits around.”
Both the Marine Corps’ recruit training depots have storied pasts — particularly Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, which was first used by Marines in the 1890s. Hundreds of thousands of Marines have stood on the famous yellow footprints on each base at the start of their careers before earning the coveted eagle, globe and anchor and title of Marine. But with a new law bearing down on the service to make both locations support coed training — within five years at Parris Island and eight at San Diego — the Marine Corps is exploring different options, Maj. Eric Flanagan, Berger’s spokesman told Military.com. “The question becomes, ‘Are we better off just using [military construction] dollars to create a new third site, or put that money into our existing sites?'” he said. “No decisions have been made. We’re not investing any money anywhere else. It’s just an option we’re talking about.”
The Marine Corps hasn’t yet identified a state where the new boot camp location might be located, Flanagan said. In assessing the possible change though, he said they’re considering a lot more than just the need for coed squad bays and other facility changes to support gender-integrated boot camp. Parris Island sits on South Carolina’s coast, just north of Hilton Head, leaving it susceptible to hurricanes. And in California, recruits leave the recruit depot, which butts up against San Diego International Airport, to complete some of their needed training at nearby Camp Pendleton. Having two boot camp sites also creates redundancies, Flanagan said. Historically, all female recruits and men who live east of the Mississippi River train at Parris Island. Male recruits west of the Mississippi ship to San Diego.
“If you have to update a lot anyway, do you save manpower, resources and personnel by just combining the two into one?” Flanagan said. If the Marine Corps were to move boot camp away from its fabled training bases, Kate Germano, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who led Parris Island’s female 4th Recruit Training Battalion, said leaders must explain their reasoning in full. Otherwise, she said she worries male Marines would blame women for the loss of tradition. “There would be so much animus there, as if there isn’t already enough,” Germano said.
Women first began training at Parris Island in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until last year that the training base saw the first-ever coed company graduate. The Marine Corps continues to fight to keep its platoons segregated by gender, though it has trained several more coed companies. Germano said she’s concerned plans to create an all-new training base would slow boot camp gender-integration efforts. “The way the Marine Corps has kicked this can down the road consistently, it’s a delay tactic in my view,” Germano said. She was relieved of command in 2015 for what she says was an effort to push for better, more equitable training for women. Marine officials contended at the time she was relieved because she was a toxic leader.
There can be a years-long lag between a planned military construction project, Germano said, and “shovels in the dirt.” “The big question that I have is, where is this on the Marine Corps’ list of priorities, and why isn’t it at the top?” she said. A Marine Corps memo on the service’s plans to make boot camp gender-neutral released last month referred to it as such. “Gender integration at Marine Corps Recruit Training remains a top priority,” the plan submitted to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services states. “The outcome the Marine Corps desires for gender integration is for every male recruit to train alongside a female recruit within the same company.”
But for a service that has struggled to embrace coed training, Richard Kohn, a history professor who studies the U.S. military at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said a new training site could serve as a fresh start. “If they build something from the ground up, they’ll be able to make it exactly as they want to facilitate integrated training,” Kohn added. “And second of all, if they get rid of Parris Island, it might dilute the traditionalist emotions.” Kohn said the move is likely to face pushback from members of Congress interested in keeping the bases — along with their associated workforces — in their states. Flanagan said it’s too early to say whether a new boot camp site would mean the Marine Corps would get rid of its two coastal-area bases. Closing military bases can take years, but the real estate in California and South Carolina could prove valuable. Ultimately, Kohn said, the decision could come down to cost. “The bean counters usually [decide] these things,” he said.
The mere possibility of the Marine Corps shaking up where it trains new recruits has drawn swift backlash — at least in one state. Political leaders in South Carolina are “activating” a task force to meet next week following Military.com‘s 24 SEP report that the Marine Corps is weighing the option of opening a new boot camp site. The task force, according to the state’s website, coordinates with public and private sectors “to maintain a significant U.S. Department of Defense presence in South Carolina.” The task force also addresses quality-of-life issues for service members and their families in the state.
Such a move would mean a big change for the service, which has historically sent new enlistees to its legendary recruit depots in San Diego and Parris Island, South Carolina. “It ain’t gonna happen!” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, tweeted on Friday. “If you’re looking to save money — let’s start with cutting those people who think closing Parris Island is a good idea.” Anyone in the Navy or Marine Corps thinking about closing Parris Island has limited growth potential,” Graham, a retired Air Force Reserve colonel, added. [Source: Military.com | Gina Harkins | September 24 & 25, 2020 ++]
Update 02: Upcoming 1st Birthday Will Unveil a Slew of Decisions
With its first birthday a few months away, the Space Force is preparing to unveil a slew of personnel, policy, and culture decisions that will set it apart from the other armed forces. The service plans to announce by its one-year anniversary on Dec. 20 which Airmen in fields like cyber, intelligence, and acquisition are accepted into the Space Force. Those names will be published ahead of when personnel from those common careers begin joining the new service in February 2021. Officers and enlisted members in the space operations field started transferring in from the Air Force on 1 SEP.
By early October, the Space Force will reveal which enlisted personnel at the E-8 and E-9 ranks—those who are Air Force senior master sergeants, first sergeants, chief master sergeants, and command chief master sergeants—in the common career fields were picked to transfer. “I want the names released so that people can plan their lives, and they’re not wondering over the holidays, when they’ve got enough to wonder about, ‘Hey, am I going to be in the Space Force on the other side of the New Year or not?’” Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman, the Space Force’s Senior Enlisted Adviser, told Air Force Magazine on Sept. 11. “We want to give them all that information.”
Sometime in the next few months, the Space Force will roll out its vision for how members should rise through the ranks. Service officials want to get rid of promotion tests for enlisted Airmen and instead use boards that focus on the best career assignments for people to help them advance, rather than simply raising their ranks or holding them back. At first, though, it will put short-term promotion practices in place until the new panels are ready to consider eligible Airmen. “We want to do away with testing, but what does that mean for the person that’s supposed to test for staff sergeant in March?” Towberman said. “We want to make sure that we know that, and that we’ve told everyone, and that those decisions are definitely done.”
The service is finalizing its Basic Military Training ideas, complete with a Space Force coin and blue name tapes, for the first seven Space Force students who go through boot camp at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, next month. A space-focused Noncommissioned Officer Academy will open for professional military education 1 OCT. Towberman is planning a conference to discuss Space Force values, and a capstone paper to explain them, by 20 DEC as well. “We’re going to bring folks together, multifunctional teams, and we’re going to sit down and talk through our core values, what they should be, what they could be,” he said. “Then, what’s our strategy for making sure that they don’t become platitudes or empty bumper stickers? … We’ve got to put a little rigor into, how do we help each other live up to those values every day?”
And, yes—dress uniforms are coming. Towberman said the Space Force wants to start testing out service dress uniforms, possibly featuring the service’s unique new insignia, by the end of the year. The service announced last month it will use the same camouflage pattern as the Air Force and Army for its official duty uniform, but has not released details on how its more formal pants, skirts, and jackets could differ from Air Force blues. Officials appear to be holding off on releasing the insignia designs for each rank until Congress passes the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill, which may require the Space Force to adopt naval ranks. The legislation doesn’t tell the Space Force to use the Navy’s insignia as well, but Towberman said it may make more sense to debut everything together once they know what to call each rank.
Air Force bases that host space missions, like the Eastern launch range at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., or missile warning systems at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., are still awaiting renaming as well. “It’s a little easier to put stuff off when … everyday, you can work on something important, but I think a lot of those things, we’re just going to wait and we’re going to see what happens, and then we’re going to be excited to move forward,” he said. [Source: AF Magazine | Rachel S. Cohen| September 11, 2020 ++]
USCG Sea Pay
New Fiscal 2021 Rates
Coast Guard members in most afloat commands will see their Career Sea Pay rates increase by $55 a month effective 1 OCT. The new fiscal 2021 rates bring the maximum monthly sea pay amount to $805. Sea pay is paid to members assigned to ships or to commands that are deployed aboard a ship. Along with the monthly sea pay increase, all Famous Class Medium Endurance Cutters (WMEC-270) will be placed in the Level 5 Sea Pay table. Coast Guard sea pay rates vary according to the type of boat or cutter to which a member is assigned. For example, an E-4 with four years of non-continuous sea service assigned to a buoy tender (WLI) would receive $180 in monthly sea pay. That same E-4 would receive $305 in monthly sea pay if they were assigned to an icebreaker. Members in pay grades E-4 and above with three or more years of consecutive sea duty also receive a $100 monthly sea pay premium. Career sea pay and the sea pay premium are considered taxable special pays. All branches of the military will receive sea pay if assigned to seagoing commands, either permanently or temporarily. [Source: Military.com | Jim Absher | September 15, 2020 ++]
Military Children U.S. Citizenship
New Law Makes it Automatic for Those Under 18
Military children who are not U.S. citizens and live overseas with their American parents are finally able to obtain citizenship automatically now that a new law is being implemented by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which had changed the policy last year. The new law scraps rules put in place by USCIS in August 2019. On 18 SEP USCIS announced that it had updated its policy to implement the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act (H.R.4803), almost a year after the agency had changed how it determined the residency requirement for children living overseas. It forced military families to file new paperwork and pay more fees to gain citizenship for their child.
Military children younger than 18 years old who are not citizens are able to acquire automatic citizenship under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, according to the new law, which was passed in March. The section states a child who was born outside the United States can automatically become a citizen if they are physically living in the United States with their parent who is a citizen. USCIS will again consider military children who are living with an American parent stationed overseas to be considered as residing within the United States. The new policy also includes children living with a parent who is a U.S. government employee stationed abroad and a spouse of a service member or government employee stationed abroad, according to the USCIS statement.
These military children “are just as worthy of automatic citizenship as any other children,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said in a statement 22 SEP about the new policy. She sponsored the Senate’s version of the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act (S.2679). “Forcing military families to jump through bureaucratic hoops and spend hundreds of dollars applying for citizenship on behalf of their children was not right, which is why I’m glad that this bipartisan bill to ensure that children of U.S. servicemembers and civil servants abroad automatically gain citizenship is now in effect,” Duckworth said.
The reason that the USCIS gave for changing the policy was the agency was clarifying two conflicting rules about the definition of “residence,” and issued the new guidance that military children would no longer be considered as residing in the United States, one of the ways for anyone born overseas to obtain citizenship automatically. The change caused widespread confusion about what it actually meant and who was affected, with some initial reporting interpreting the policy to mean that military children were being denied citizenship. The law passed in March was aimed at resolving the issue and stating military children living overseas should be considered as residing in the U.S. for obtaining citizenship. With the implementation of the law, USCIS is applying the new policy change to eligible children who were younger than 18 years old on 26 MAR 2020, according to the statement. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Caitlin M. Kenney | September 22, 2020 ++]
Military Working Dogs
Update 05: Call for U.S.-Bred Dogs Grows to End ‘Outsourced’ Security
They are some of the fiercest, most specialized weapons in the U.S. military’s arsenal. They also are in increasingly short supply and carry a high price tag, leaving the Pentagon to fend off the highest bidders around the world. Working dogs—among the military’s most precious resources—can detect scents more than 1,000 times better than any human or equipment, making them ideal for patrols, finding bombs, and chasing down terrorists—most recently the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Despite the military’s reliance on German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Labrador retrievers, it is forced to buy them abroad or from stateside vendors, many of whom also buy the dogs from Europe, because the Defense Department doesn’t have access to an American breeding program that can satisfy the need.
Now, the Senate is nudging the Air Force—which oversees the Defense Department’s military working dog program—to figure out how to breed the dogs domestically to have a secure and stable supply and cut costs. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in a statement to Bloomberg Government, “I was surprised to learn from the Air Force that the vast majority of our working dogs are actually born and bred in Europe, which raises costs and puts us in competition with other countries. I wanted to do what I could to help establish a strong program to breed working dogs here at home, where we already have an expert training program.” Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is behind a provision in the annual defense policy bill that would back a review of how these dogs are bought. It’s the first step toward buying American, “by assessing what resources are necessary for the Department of Defense to meet increasing demands for military working dogs by supporting American breeders,” Blumenthal said.
The Armed Services Committee wrote in the report accompanying the annual defense authorization bill, S. 4049: “Due to the finite number of breeders overseas, as well as rising market demand, the cost for the Air Force and other agencies to procure whelped military working dogs from Europe is skyrocketing.” Military rigors and contracting have posed roadblocks for U.S. breeders, often small-business owners unable to absorb the extra cost and time required to navigate the military’s needs and requirements. Canine experts, including the American Kennel Club, have pushed the concept of a national breeding center as a nucleus designed to sell to the government. Without its own breeding program, the U.S. is forced to pay high prices and compete for a shrinking supply of dogs that aren’t genetically perfect and come with increasing health issues, they argue. A puppy can cost $5,500 to sometimes as much as $25,000 these days on the open market, where border patrol units, the State Department, and private security firms go for canine talent.
There are about 1,600 active working dogs in the military, but only 10% are bred at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The rest are imports primarily from Central and Eastern Europe, where dog-training culture has deep roots. Military procurement officers make four trips a year to buy European puppies. And about 15% to 25% of the puppies that pass initial muster don’t make it through the rigorous training to become military working dogs. The Air Force budgets $5.3 million to buy dogs each year, and the 341st training squadron at Lackland has an operating budget of about $8 million. The Air Force buys about 450 dogs a year. Last year, the Air Force bought 427 dogs—214 from domestic vendors and 213 from overseas. Of the 214 dogs bought domestically, all but 20 were born in Europe, according to data provided by Laura Andrews, an Air Force spokeswoman.
Buying a dog overseas costs about $5,500, and in the U.S. about $9,000, according to the Air Force’s data. Often civilian vendors go to the same overseas markets and then resell the dogs to the Defense Department with an average markup of $3,000. In addition, it costs $60,000 to train one dog, the Air Force said. “We make every effort to maximize our domestic procurement, but the majority of dogs are purchased as adults from vendors in Europe,” Andrews said in an e-mail. “There simply is no market value to a vendor in operating a breeding program to the capacity needed to meet the demands” of the Defense Department.
Dogs have played a role in battle since ancient times, when Romans sent dogs with razor sharp collars into the enemies’ ranks. Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and an increase in terrorism around the world, dogs have become increasingly important to modern military operations, serving as sentries and bomb sniffers to reduce potential human casualties. That has the U.S. competing with cash-rich Middle Eastern nations and other countries for a finite number of specially trained dogs, most of them from Europe. Puppies enter training for a K-9 unit at Lackland at around 18 months, starting with obedience work and drug and/or bomb detection. Families adopt dogs that fail to make the cut. Some of the dogs get a second round of training in how to patrol, detain an enemy, and attack. A dual-purpose dog spends about 120 days completing both training cycles.
Breeding dogs in the U.S., “is a really valuable thing to consider because we do not want to outsource national security,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who is one of the minds behind creating a national breeding cooperative. It’s the initial investment “that people have a hard time justifying,” even though in the long-run a co-op would provide healthier, more stable dogs able to start work earlier and keep working longer, Otto said. A cooperative would bring together organizations and breeders to produce healthy, purpose-bred dogs, Otto co-wrote in a 2018 paper for the Frontiers in Veterinary Science journal. Success would hinge on private breeders and groups retaining ownership of the breeding stock to ensure a lineage of genetically advanced dogs, especially during times of scarce government funding, they wrote.
The American Kennel Club also backs the concept of a national breeding center that would oversee a database of working dogs, a semen bank, genetic evaluations, and standards for the selection of breeding stock. A national semen bank would capture the genetic potential of current high performing dogs, said Sheila Goffe, vice president of government relations at the AKC. “U.S. breeders can and should be a source of military working dogs,” Goffe said. “These dogs represent a crucial component of public safety and security that shouldn’t be outsourced overseas.” The coronavirus pandemic that prevented agencies from traveling overseas to obtain new dogs this year illustrates just one reason the U.S. needs to be able to rely on domestic sources for dogs, added Goffe. But breeding high-quality dogs is expensive and intensive.
Government agencies looking for explosives-detection dogs typically don’t work with puppies younger than 10 months, and for the military it’s often 18 months. That leaves breeders to raise puppies for longer while preparing them for advanced training, an expensive process. Then there’s no guarantee the puppy will be purchased by the government, said Goffe. “There are excellent breeders here in the U.S who would like to supply these dogs, but the incentives are hugely askew,” Goffe said in an email. “The process is intimidating, typically seeks a large number of dogs at one time that a breeder working alone couldn’t provide and offers very little incentive for dog breeders.” Breeders can sell the same puppy at eight weeks to a home for about the same price the government currently pays, she said.
While the cost of buying and training military dogs is known, the full lifetime expenses of military K-9 operations are more elusive. Blumenthal is pushing for the military work program to have its own dedicated accounting line in the Defense Department’s budget to “more accurately capture the facility and resource requirements necessary to successfully and efficiently provide military working dogs to all the military services,” according to the defense authorization report. House and Senate negotiators still have to settle on a final version of the defense authorization bill. The House version, H.R. 6395, didn’t contain similar language. The legislation must be enacted by the end of December to avoid expiring policies and pay authorizations.
The American Kennel Club has been pressing for more transparency of the actual cost per deployed dog, especially if that dog comes from overseas. “If we can know what the real, total cost per dog deployed is, and that price can be reflected in a fair price offered to U.S. breeders for a well-bred and -raised dog from the U.S., we believe the incentives issue can be addressed,” Goffe said in an e-mail. [Source: Bloomberg Government | Roxana Tiron | September 16, 2020 ++]
USS Grenadier (SS-210)
77 Year Old Wreck Discovered
Sonar screen image (left) shows a silhouette shape of a submarine lying on the ocean floor somewhere in the Strait of Malacca
believed to be USS Grenadier shown in Dec 1941 photo (right) off Portsmouth, N.H.
Divers have found what they believe is the wreck of a U.S. Navy submarine lost 77 years ago in Southeast Asia, providing a coda to a stirring but little-known tale from World War II. The divers have sent photos and other evidence from six dives they made from October 2019 to March this year to the United States Naval History and Heritage Command for verification that they have found the USS Grenadier, one of 52 American submarines lost during the conflict. The 1,475-ton, 307-foot long Grenadier was scuttled by its crew after bombs from a Japanese plane almost sent them to a watery grave. All 76 of its personnel survived the bombing and sinking, but their agony to follow would be prolonged. After being taken prisoner, they were tortured, beaten and nearly starved by their Japanese captors for more than two years, and four did not survive that ordeal.
The wreck lies 270 feet underwater somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, about 92 miles south of Phuket, Thailand. It was discovered by Singapore-based Jean Luc Rivoire and Benoit Laborie of France, and Australian Lance Horowitz and Belgian Ben Reymenants, who live in Phuket, Thailand. Reymenants was one of the divers who took part in the dramatic rescue of a dozen boys and their soccer coach who got trapped in a cave in northern Thailand two years ago. The Belgian has been researching possible locations for shipwrecks for many years, Horowitz said in an interview with The Associated Press, and Rivoire had a suitable boat to explore the leads he found. Reymenants would ask fishermen if there were any odd spots where they’d lost nets, and then the team would use side-looking sonar to scan the sea floor for distinct shapes.
When they dived to look at one promising object, it was a lot bigger than expected, so they dug back into the archives to try to figure out which lost vessel it could be, and then dived again. “And so we went back looking for clues, nameplate, but we couldn’t find any of those,” recalled Horowitz. “And in the end, we took very precise measurements of the submarine and compared those with the naval records. And they’re exactly, as per the drawings, the exact same size. So we’re pretty confident that it is the USS Grenadier.” The Navy command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch on average receives two to three such requests a year from searchers like the Grenadier divers, said its head, Dr. Robert Neyland, in an email to The Associated Press. “A complete review, analysis, and documentation may take two months to a year to complete,” he said, adding that it will likely take a few months in the case of this potential discovery.
The Grenadier left Pearl Harbor on Feb. 4, 1942, on its initial war patrol. Its first five missions took it to Japanese home waters, the Formosa shipping lanes, the southwest Pacific, the South China Sea and the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). It sank six ships and damaged two. It sailed on March 20, 1943, from Fremantle, Australia, on its sixth patrol, to the Malacca Strait and north into the Andaman Sea. The commanding officer, Lt. Cdr. John A. Fitzgerald, recorded what happened there in a report written after being freed from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in 1945.
On the night of 20 APR, the submarine glimpsed two small freighters and set course to intercept them the next morning, sailing on the surface for speed. In the morning, a plane was sighted; an immediate crash dive was ordered, but the ship did not descend far enough, fast enough. Blasts from two bombs battered the sub; key parts of the vessel were mangled; power and lights were lost and a fire broke out. All hands desperately worked to fix what they could as Fitzgerald ordered the ship to stay on the sea floor.
When it surfaced after 13 hours it was clear the Grenadier was too crippled to flee or fight. An effort was made to rig makeshift sails on a periscope to reach shore before blowing up the vessel, but there was dead calm. As dawn broke, two ships on the horizon were closing in. Codebooks and sensitive equipment were destroyed as preparations were made to scuttle the submarine. A Japanese plane made a run at the ship, but was fought off with small arms, dropping a bomb harmlessly about 200 yards away. The crew abandoned ship at 0830 and an hour later were hauled aboard an armed merchant ship, which took them to Penang, a major port town on the Malayan Peninsula.
At a Catholic school requisitioned by the Japanese for use as a prison, events took an even darker turn. “The rough treatment started the first afternoon, particularly with the (enlisted) men. They were forced to sit or stand in silence in an attention attitude,” wrote Fitzgerald. “Any divergence resulted in a gun butt, kick, slug in the face or a bayonet prick. In the questioning room, persuasive measures, such as clubs, about the size of indoor ball bats, pencils between the fingers and pushing of the blade of a pen knife under the finger nails, trying to get us to talk about our submarine and the location of other submarines.”
After a few months, all the crew were transferred to camps in Japan, where the abuse continued. Four died from a lack of medical attention. “This was an important ship during the war and it was very important to all the crew that served on her,” diver Horowitz said last week. “When you read the book of the survivors, that was, you know, quite an ordeal they went through and to know where she finally lies and rests, I’m sure it’s very satisfying for them and their families to be able to have some closure.” [Source: The Associated Press | Grant Peck | September 20, 2020 ++]
Navy RAO Program
Update 02: How to Locate Offices for Services
The Navy Retired Activities Office (RAO) provides support service to all military retirees (regular and reserve) from all branches of military service, their spouses, families, annuitants, authorized or designated beneficiaries, representatives or guardians worldwide. The RAO serves as a point of contact and resource to ensure the retired community is kept up to date with current information and benefits. Annual Retiree Seminars /Retiree Appreciation Days are scheduled and announced to provide current and local information for retirees. Many services are driven by the needs of the local retired community, in which services are provided by retired volunteers, retired family member, government service employees or active duty personnel. For a listing of RAOs, phone numbers, emails and the hours of operations update JUL 2020 Click here. Also, volunteer support is needed working at RAOs located across the U.S. If you would like to volunteer please contact your local RAO Director annotated “Need volunteers” on the listing. [Source: DFAS Newsletter | | September 18, 2020 ++]
Navy Terminology, Jargon & Slang
‘Oil King’ thru ‘Oh Dark Thirty’
Every profession has its own jargon and the Navy is no exception. Since days of yore the military in general, and sailors in particular, have often had a rather pithy (dare say ‘tasteless’?) manner of speech. That may be changing somewhat in these politically correct times, but to Bowdlerize the sailor’s language represented here would be to deny its rich history. The traditions and origins remain. While it attempted to present things with a bit of humor, if you are easily offended this may not be for you. You have been warned.
Note: ‘RN’ denotes Royal Navy usage. Similarly, RCN = Royal Canadian Navy, RAN = Royal Australian Navy, RM = Royal Marines, RNZN = Royal New Zealand Navy, UK = general usage in militaries of the former British Empire
Oil King – Personnel in charge of inventorying, testing, and bringing aboard petroleum products of various types.
Oilskins – Garments made from cloth which has been made water-resistant by impregnating it with linseed oil.
One Way – See “WALTER.”
On Speed – (Naval Aviation) A term meaning that the aircraft is at the proper speed for final approach to landing. Indicated by the INDEXER light array. This speed varies with amount of fuel and ordnance or other stores being carried.
Oolie – (Submarine) A difficult question that may not pertain to one’s duties, or one that tests one’s system knowledge to the limit. Also seen as Ouly or owly.
OPFOR – OPposing FORce, whether in an exercise or real life.
Opposite Number – (RN) (1) Anyone carrying out comparable or equivalent duties on another watch or ship. (2) A friend.
Oppo – (RN) Friend. Aka ‘Wings’, ‘Winger’ (i.e. wingman). c.f. OPPOSITE NUMBER.
Orange Force – Opposing force in a wargame exercise.
Order of the Blue Nose – One who has crossed the Arctic Circle in a ship.
Order of the Golden Dragon – A fraternal order made up of those who have crossed the equator at the International Date Line in a ship. An event similar to a LINE-CROSSING CEREMONY is staged for the victim’s benefit.
Order of the Red Nose – A fraternal order made up of those who have crossed the Antarctic Circle in a ship.
Ordie – See REDSHIRT.
ORSE – Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination, a strenuous and exhausting series of examinations, tests, and demonstrations of reactor operating procedures and practices, performed on nuclear-powered ships of the US Navy. Conducted by NAVSEA08, the Nuclear Propulsion group of Naval Sea Systems Command, once a cycle.
O’s – Officers. Pronounced “ohs.”
Oscar – (1) The dummy used for man overboard drills. (2) The international signal flag hoisted for “man overboard”. (3) Phonetic alphabet for “O.”
Oscar Brothers – The Commanding Officer and Executive Officer (CO and XO).
Overhead – What a civilian would call the ceiling. Essentially, the underside of the deck above.
Own Goal – See BLUE ON BLUE.
[Source: hazegray.org/faq/slang1.htm | September 30, 2020 ++]
* Military History *
WWII Hell Ships
Japanese Transporters of POWs and Slave Laborers
During World War II, 70,000 or more Allied prisoners of war and conscripted Asian laborers were moved in Japanese merchant ships across the vast expanse of the occupied East. These vessels were called ‘hell ships, and with good reason. POWs and slave laborers were crammed into stinking holds, filthy with coal dust, congealed sugar syrup and horse manure left over from previous voyages. Without water, or nearly so, sick, abused and neglected, they baked in unimaginable heat inside their steel prisons.
Many died. Some went mad. Others were murdered. Some of the cruelty they experienced was extraordinary even for prisoners of the Japanese. On one ship jammed with prisoners in blazing heat, the water lowered into the holds was far too little and, one POW remembered, foul and polluted, covered with a thick, greenish scum. Two more containers sent down from the deck contained only seawater and urine. You are bred like rats, the ship’s interpreter sneered, and you will die like rats.
Something on the order of 62,000 prisoners were moved by 56 ships. As many as 22,000 perished from murder, starvation, sickness and neglect–or were killed unknowingly by their friends, since Japanese prison ships did not display the red cross required by the Geneva Convention when prisoners were being transported. That callous act made the jammed freighters targets for any Allied aircraft or submarine, and no pilot or sub skipper could know that his quarry carried men of his own or Allied nations. To lean more of what transpired on these ships and many of their fates refer to the attachment to this bulletin titles, “WWII Hell Ships”. [Source: HistoryNet | Robert Barr Smith | March 2002 ++]
Normandy Airborne Assault
The 82nd and 101st Airborne on D-Day
The amphibious landings of D-Day were hours away when the first combat missions by the US Army started in France. The invasion of Normandy began with a large-scale parachute drop that included 13,100 Soldiers of the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Divisions. The attack occurred during the night in the early hours of June 6th, 1944, and was the vanguard of the Allied operations in Normandy. The troops were all part of the US VII Corps assigned to capture Cherbourg, the coastal city in Normandy, that would serve as a supply port for the Allied troops after the landing. They were also tasked with a specific mission: to block approaches into the vicinity of the amphibious landing at Utah Beach, to capture causeway exits off the beaches, and to establish crossings over the Douve River at Carentan to assist the US V Corps in joining up the two American beachheads.
Once the paratroopers landed, all hell broke loose. The heavy fighting marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe. The operation was the subject of careful planning that lasted for over a year. Both the divisions that were trusted with the operation had already earned their fame in Italy, where they served during the Allied invasion, conducting night drops. The IX Troop Carrier Command was formed in October 1943 as a transport force designated to carry out the invasion of Europe. In February 1944, it became apparent that the landing was going to take place in Normandy, and plans were once again drafted and offered to US commander Dwight D. Eisenhower. The night jump rehearsals were carried out in May 1944, and the men from the 82nd and 101st were all jacked up to be dropped in France, behind enemy lines.
The paratroopers were to disrupt the German defense lines and use the element of surprise while the main force landed the beaches. The mission proved to be a difficult one, for the landings needed to be carried out precisely so that the troops wouldn’t scatter and fall victim to German patrols. The airborne assault was divided into two missions, codenamed Albany and Boston. The “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st, part of mission Albany, were the first to jump. Their drop zone was northeast of the town of Carentan. Between 00:48 and 01:40 hours, three regiments, each numbering 1800 men, parachuted into France. The pathfinders of the 101st were instructed to set up short-range Rebecca/Eureka navigation systems. These devices were intended to help the pilots in the carrier planes to find the drop zones.
One hour behind the 101st came the men of the 82nd Airborne Division, ready to make history at Sainte-Mere-Eglise. They began to drop at 01:51 hours in Mission Boston, again dropping in three waves from a fleet of 369 C-47 carrier planes. Another 6,420 men joined the fight that was already raging on the ground. Even though the operation was well planned, bad weather meant that hundreds of men landed far from their drop zones, forming pockets of resistance that took on the well-organized German defenders everywhere. Accuracy of the drops were hindered by a lack of navigators on many of the aircraft, radio silence that prevented warnings when adverse weather was encountered, German anti-aircraft fire, and emergency usage of Rebecca by numerous lost aircraft, jamming the system and causing malfunctions.
Once the troops of the 101st and the 82nd were on the ground, they began organizing and completing their objectives, despite the difficult start and the determination of the Germans to stop them. The initial casualties were high among the US troops, with a significant loss of commanding officers on the ground, which threatened to leave the Soldiers without appropriate leadership. Once the US troops managed to secure their ground, a pre-dawn glider mission was sent with reinforcements and anti-tank equipment. Several other glider missions (codenamed Elmira, Galveston, Hackensack) followed up, including a resupply mission (Freeport and Memphis), reinforcing the 82nd and the 101st as the urban combat continued in Carentan and Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
After the first 24 hours, 2,500 out of 6,000 men of the 101st were under the direct command of the division headquarters. Many others were either dead or were fighting for survival deep behind enemy lines. The push for Carentan was at its crucial stage, and the men weren’t giving up, despite the chaos that followed their landing. The 82nd had consolidated its forces on Sainte-Mere-Eglise, but significant pockets of troops were isolated west of the Merderet, some of which had to hold out for several days. The dispersal of the American airborne troops and the nature of the hedgerow terrain had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response. As a defensive tactic, the Germans diverted the Douve River and flooded the area, making the terrain impassable for vehicles. This backfired because the flooded areas protected the American southern flank from counterattack.
The fighting continued for over a week. On June 13th, German forces using assault guns, tanks, and infantry of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division’s 37th SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment, along with the elements of the 6th Parachute Regiment, attacked the 101st southwest of Carentan. The Germans pushed back the left of the US line in a morning-long battle until Combat Command A of the 2nd Armored Division was sent forward to repel the attack. The 82nd Division also played a significant role in the fighting during those days, gaining control over a bridge at Merderet and several other strategic points along the Douve river, before uniting with the elements of the 101st Divison on June 14th at Baupte.
After the battle, the number of US casualties during the airborne operation was 42 C-47 carrier planes, 1,240 (182 killed, 557 wounded, and 501 missing) members of the 101st and 1,259 (156 killed, 347 wounded, and 756 missing) from the 82nd. The strategic importance of the Airborne landings to the overall success of the invasion of Normandy is huge. Mission Albany and Mission Boston remain two of the most daring operations in the history of modern warfare. [Source: Together We Served | Battlefield Chronicles | September 2020 ++]
WWII Operation Drumbeat
Nazi Submarines Brought the Fight to Florida
The attack on Pearl Harbor was not the only time that World War II made it to the United States. For nearly a year, Nazi U-boat submarines patrolled the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean seeking to kill Americans, disrupt merchant shipping and strike fear in the hearts of U.S. citizens. They succeeded in the first two, sinking nearly 70 vessels, including ships coming to and from Tampa, and killing an estimated 700 crewmen. But it wasn’t until years later that the public learned of the severity of the Nazi presence.
Using Tampa Bay Times archives, here is how the Nazis sought to bring terror to Florida: Capt. Reinhard Hardegen was among the Nazis charged with leading the attacks for what the Germans dubbed “Operation Drumbeat,” which spanned May 1942 through April 1943. He told the Times in 1992 that he initially thought it was a foolhardy mission. “We were expecting the worst,” Hardegen, then 78, said. “But the Americans were totally unprepared. It was unbelievable how many ships we sank. We had our choice of targets.”
The submarines were so close to shore, he said, that his crew marveled at Coney Island’s Ferris wheel when it was lit up at night. “It was something to see,” Hardegen said. “And then, farther down south, the resorts. The ships would be silhouetted against this and we could just fire away. It seemed too easy.” The Nazis were so bold that they risked coming to shore. When some were arrested, they had movie tickets in their pockets. “That is how close they got,” Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center said in 2014 when the museum featured an exhibit on Operation Drumbeat. “They came onto land.”
The Tampa Bay area was a prime target because it was home to three airfields where planes flew missions and because ships and tankers left Tampa’s port carrying aviation fuel and supplies. Local waters were too shallow for the U-boats, so they attacked such vessels further out to sea. Overall, the Nazis sunk seven ships coming to or from the Tampa Bay area. The attacks were close to the shores of Stuart. Lillian Rudd Davisworth told the Times in 1991 that she lived 10 miles inland from that city’s Atlantic Coast in 1942. She recalled thinking an earthquake was rattling her house. “Things began to fall off tables, and our little dog started running around and barking,” she said. “We learned that a ship had been sunk by a German sub just south of Jupiter, and what we felt was shock waves from the torpedo.”
Paul F. Daniel Jr. was a druggist in Vero Beach at the time who also volunteered as a lookout for submarines. “I saw more live warfare in Vero Beach the first four months of the war than I saw my entire duty in the Marine Air Corps in the Pacific Theater during the latter part of the war,” Daniel told the Times in 1991. The SS Thompson Lykes of Tampa’s Lykes Steamship company was in the middle of the gulf when word of a sinking oil tanker due to a Nazi attack reached the crew via radio. They saved 18 survivors out of a crew of 40 and took them to New Orleans. The U.S. government kept the severity of Operation Drumbeat from reaching the public. And some reporters who learned the truth were successfully coaxed by federal officials to downplay it. “When someone would see an oil tanker burning off the coast of Louisiana or somewhere else, it would get reported, but not in a major way,” Kite-Powell said in 2014. “It would be treated like an isolated incident rather than part of a larger operation.”
Still, decades later, the federal government admitted the attacks likely impacted the environment. Thousands of gallons of oil and gasoline from damaged petroleum tankers and other ships spilled into the water, the Times reported in 1990. “Many of the tar balls that still wash up on the beaches of Florida and the rest of the Southeast are the result of slow leakage from some tankers sunk by the German submarines,” the paper reported. Daniel recalled an occasion when “the beach was black with oil. Once there were so many empty oil drums washing ashore, they had to bring out the high school seniors to help collect them and load them on a truck.”
Although Pearl Harbor marked the entrance of the United States into the war and remains a strong symbol, the U-boat attacks were militarily far more dangerous, University of Florida professor Michael J. Gannon, author of Operation Drumbeat, said in 1992. “Looking back, though, Operation Drumbeat did not prove to be a successful German initiative,” Kite-Powell said. “There were never enough U-boats to pose a serious threat to American shipping, and difficulty in repairing and resupplying the German submarines continually hampered the German navy’s efforts. Four out of the 15 U-boats assigned to the Gulf were sunk and, unlike the merchant seamen, there were no survivors when a submarine sank. In all, 157 German crewmen lost their lives in the Gulf during World War II.” [Source: Tampa Bay News | Paul Guzzo | Septembers 15, 2019 ++]
WWII Bomber Nose Art
 Night Mission
Military History Anniversaries
01 thru 15 OCT
Significant events in U. S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 01 thru 15 OCT”. [Source: This Day in History www.history.com/this-day-in-history | September 2020 ++]
Why WWII Navy Veterans Added Salt to It
In 1914, Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels banned alcohol from all U.S. Navy property, and ever since the cup of coffee has replaced the sailor’s grog aboard American ships. Those black beans became just as important for fueling the Navy as diesel fuel or uranium. Descendants of sailors who fought in World War II might have noticed their dad or grandpa adding a dash of salt to their morning coffee and wondered why on Earth they would do that. There are actually two reasons “old salts” have been known to do this (and it’s not why they’re called old salts).
Aboard Navy ships mornings don’t happen at the same time for every sailor. As a result, the ship keeps coffee brewing all the time, so no matter when your morning is, a cup of joe is ready somewhere. But anyone who has ever had a big steaming cup of government coffee knows, it’s not the best. That’s true today, and it was true during World War II. When your coffee tastes terrible you have a few options. You can add cream and sugar — if it’s available. Or you can cut the bitter taste some other way. For World War II era sailors, the most readily available way was through the use of table salt.
You might have seen some people salting fruit like cantaloupe and grapefruit or adding salt to their beer. That’s because when presented with both flavors at the same time, human taste buds can be fooled into ignoring bitter tastes and reacting more strongly to salty tastes instead. Salting coffee did the trick to reduce the bitter flavor and made the brew more palatable. But that’s not the only reason sailors of that era grew accustomed to salty coffee, bringing the preference home with them when the war ended. The desalination units on World War II-era ships that converted sea water to drinking water weren’t 100% efficient at removing the salt from the water. As a result, the coffee retained a slightly salty flavor, so sailors just got used to the taste.
Now that we know that trick, we can all feel free to buy the world’s worst bulk coffee and, with a little salt, make it seem like Juan Valdez himself brought it to you from the mountains of Colombia. [Source: Military.com | September 2020 ++]
Iron Cross Awardees
An Untersturmführer is awarding Iron Crosses 2nd Class and Merit Crosses to the Regiment Germania in Poland
on the Eastern Front 1944. Later this division was added to the 5th SS Wiking.
Awards and Decorations of Nazi Germany were military, political and civilian decorations that were bestowed between 1923 and 1945, first by the Nazi Party and later the state of Nazi Germany. After 1933, the state began issuing a variety of civilian decorations, which could be bestowed upon any citizen of Germany. Thus, some awards (such as Sports Badges) were bestowed on Nazi Party members, members of the German military, and regular civilians. Many standard awards of the German state, such as life-saving medals, were redesigned to incorporate the Nazi symbol, the swastika.
A number of military awards were established pre-war, including Wehrmacht long service decorations, followed by awards for participation in the Spanish Civil War and for the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, with the greatest number established after the start of World War II in 1939. Regulations of award also permitted the simultaneous wear of military, civilian, and political decorations on any military or para-military uniform of Nazi Germany. Nazi awards and decorations were discontinued after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, with display of the swastika banned. To give you an idea here’s a short list of the amount of some decorations awarded between September 1, 1939 and May 8, 1945
- Iron Cross (2nd Class) — Awarded for bravery before the enemy or excellence in commanding troops: 4.500.000
- Iron Cross (1st Class) — Awarded for continuous bravery before the enemy or excellence in commanding troops after being awarded the preceding class of the Iron Cross: 300.000
- Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross –Awarded for continuous bravery before the enemy or excellence in commanding troops after being awarded all preceding classes of the Iron Cross: 7.318
- Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross — Awarded with and without swords. For meritorious contributions to the war effort after being awarded all preceding classes of the War Merit Cross: 250
- Grand Cross of the Iron Cross — Awarded to victorious Generals/Field Marshals of German forces and her allies. Hermann Göring, received the Grand Cross on 19 July 1940, the only award of World War II.
[Source: www.facebook.com/HistoryisallaboutColour/photos/a.735448703141984/3288612107825618 | September 2020 ++]
Medal of Honor Citations
William E. Adams | Vietnam
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the
MEDAL OF HONOR, posthumously
Maj. William E. Adams
Organization: U.S. Army, A, 227th Assault Helicopter Company, 52d Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group,
1st Aviation Brigade
Place and date: Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, May 25, 1971
Entered service: Kansas City MO in 1962 at age 23
Born: June 16, 1939, Casper, Natrona County, WY
Maj. Adams distinguished himself on 25 May 1971 while serving as a helicopter pilot in Kontum province in the Republic of Vietnam. On that date, Maj. Adams volunteered to fly a lightly armed helicopter in an attempt to evacuate three seriously wounded soldiers from a small fire base which was under attack by a large enemy force. He made the decision with full knowledge that numerous antiaircraft weapons were positioned around the base and that the clear weather would afford the enemy gunners an unobstructed view of all routes into the base. As he approached the base, the enemy gunners opened fire with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms. Undaunted by the fusillade, he continued his approach determined to accomplish the mission. Displaying tremendous courage under fire, he calmly directed the attacks of supporting gunships while maintaining absolute control of the helicopter he was flying. He landed the aircraft at the fire base despite the ever-increasing enemy fire and calmly waited until the wounded soldiers were placed on board. As his aircraft departed from the fire base, it was struck and seriously damaged by enemy antiaircraft fire and began descending. Flying with exceptional skill, he immediately regained control of the crippled aircraft and attempted a controlled landing. Despite his valiant efforts, the helicopter exploded, overturned, and plummeted to earth amid the hail of enemy fire. Maj. Adams’ conspicuous gallantry, intrepidity, and humanitarian regard for his fellow man were in keeping with the most cherished traditions of the military service and reflected utmost credit on him and the U.S. Army.
Adams was born in Casper, Wyoming. He attended Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri, where he graduated in the junior college Class of 1959. Three years later, Adams graduated from Colorado State University as a member of the Class of 1962 and joined the United States Army in Kansas City, Missouri. He began his tour in Vietnam on July 6, 1970 and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1972. Adams was buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. His grave can be found in plot P O, Grave 3831. The Vietnam War Memorial formerly on the campus of Wentworth Military Academy, is the same make and model helicopter that Adams was flying when he was killed. He is listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on panel 03W, row 054.
* Health Care *
Using Patient Portal for COVID-19 Concerns
MHS GENESIS e-Visits provide a quick, safe, and easy tool for Military Health System (MHS) beneficiaries to communicate COVID-19 concerns to their primary care providers. The communication tool on the new electronic health record rolled out in April. “The e-Visits allow patients to initiate secure communication with their primary care team through the use of a structured questionnaire focused on COVID-19 symptoms. It decreases the need for a phone call or in-person visit,” said Air Force Lt. Col. John DaLomba, the Defense Health Agency’s solution owner for the MHS GENESIS patient portal.
DaLomba leads the team that investigates and resolves issues with patient portal functionality, and also directs long-term strategy and communications for using the platform. He said additional e-Visit tools are planned to address other health concerns such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. As DaLomba explained, beneficiaries access COVID-19 e-Visits by logging on to the MHS GENESIS patient portal. They click on the “Appointments and e-Visits” tab and then “View Available e-Visits.”
The next page takes beneficiaries to a COVID-19 questionnaire. Beneficiaries then click the “take now” button to complete it. “The questionnaire uses branching logic,” DaLomba said. “The answer to one question will lead to another and so on, until the patient finishes the questionnaire. Some questions are basic while others are more detailed, and the questionnaire takes about five minutes to complete. After finishing the questionnaire, beneficiaries hit the “submit” button. This enables the secure transfer to the beneficiary’s provider, who will review the responses. Either the provider or a member of the care team then will reach out to the beneficiary with instructions and additional information, usually within one business day. “Possible additional information ranges from ‘please continue living your life’ to ‘seek emergency care immediately,'” DaLomba said.
“The e-Visits eliminate the need for beneficiaries to immediately if at all see providers in person. And they’ve proven to be critical to ensuring continuity of care while keeping vulnerable patients as well as providers safe from possible COVID-19 exposure,” DaLomba said. Among the eight military medical treatment facilities with MHS GENESIS, the number of e-Visits has an increased from an average of 3.1 visits per day in April to 13.3 visits per day in September.
As the MHS is in the midst of a historic transformation to build a more integrated and effective system of readiness and health, MHS GENESIS serves as a cornerstone of this effort. The new EHR provides enhanced, secure technology to manage beneficiaries’ health information. It also integrates inpatient and outpatient solutions that will connect medical and dental information across the continuum of care, from point of injury to the military medical treatment facility. This includes garrison, operational, and en route care, increasing efficiencies for health care professionals and improving outcomes for beneficiaries. When fully deployed, MHS GENESIS will provide a single health record for all service members, eligible veterans, retirees, and their families. Beyond the user experience, the system also helps the MHS to better tailor resources to meet operational requirements.
The DHA began deploying MHS GENESIS in early 2017 at Fairchild Air Force Base, Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor, Naval Hospital Bremerton, and Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington. In SEP 2019, MHS GENESIS was fully deployed at MTFs in California, at Travis AFB as well as Naval Air Station Lemoore and the U.S. Army Health Clinic Presidio of Monterey; and in Idaho at Mountain Home AFB. Following the successful deployment of MHS GENESIS across four Coast Guard pilot sites 29 AUG, the DHA in conjunction with the Program Executive Office, Defense Healthcare Management Systems will deploy MHS GENESIS to 10 bases in California and Nevada later this month.
“The e-Visits are about giving beneficiaries control of their care and keeping everybody – patients, staff and families – as safe as possible” DaLomba said. For a short Tutorial on accessing patient portal refer to www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=88&v=so40HWVVzIg&feature=emb_title. To learn more about accessing the MHS GENESIS patient portal click on www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Technology/Military-Electronic-Health-Record/MHS-GENESIS/MHS-GENESIS-Timeline. [Source: Health.mil | September 15, 2020++]
Update 08: Study of Effects on Therapeutic Stem Cells
Veterans and service members are more likely to use tobacco products than civilians, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC statistics show that about 30% of Veterans used some form of a tobacco from 2010 to 2015. Tobacco use was higher among Veterans than non-Veterans for males and females across all age groups, except men ages 50 and older.
Many in the research community believe there is huge potential for stem cell therapy to treat a broad range of diseases. Stem cells, special human cells that can develop into many different cell types, essentially serve as a repair system for the body. Currently, more than 5,000 clinical trials worldwide are based on therapeutic stem cells, including some at VA hospitals for illnesses ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer. But gaps remain in the transition of stem cell application from the research stage to patients.
“One of these gaps is how a patient’s lifestyle choices and underlying health conditions may negatively affect stem cell therapy,” says Dr. Ngan Huang, a biomedical engineer at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California. “Given the prevalence of cigarette use and rise of electronic cigarettes, we believe this subject is an important aspect of stem cell application that remains unexplored. Not much is known about nicotine and its direct effect on therapeutic stem cells.” Huang and Dr. Alex Chan, a postdoctoral research fellow at VA Palo Alto, are studying the effects of nicotine, a highly addictive tobacco stimulant normally inhaled with cigarettes, on therapeutic stem cells. The two co-authored a review article on the effects of nicotine on stem cell therapy that appeared online earlier this year in the journal Regenerative Medicine.
There are two arms to their study. In one, Huang and Chan are injecting cells into mice that have been exposed to nicotine, as well as those that haven’t, with the intention of treating peripheral artery disease, which obstructs blood vessels in the arms and legs. In the other arm, the researchers will compare stem cells in smokers and non-smokers. They will see if the groups differ at producing cells that are effective at making new blood vessels. Huang and Chan are hoping to bring more awareness about the effects of smoking on stem cells to the Veteran community, as well as other types of nicotine exposure that may impact the effectiveness of stem cell therapy, such as electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes, also known as “vapes,” are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals that are known to harm one’s respiratory system.
The effects of lifestyle and co-occurring health conditions on stem cells have been “largely neglected,” Chan explains. “Preclinical studies of stem cell therapies have mainly been conducted in healthy animal models. This does not reflect the settings in the clinics where patients requiring stem cell therapy may have underlying diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and lifestyle choices like smoking and diet.” The overall results from the study, Huang notes, may prompt researchers to take nicotine or tobacco exposure into consideration in clinical trials. As more trials take place for stem cell therapies in many applications, she says, the field will trend toward more effective therapies. “But with many unknowns, it will be years before stem cells therapies become the gold standard treatment for certain diseases,” she says. [Source: Vantage Point | Mike Richman | September 15, 2020 ++]
Update 09: PTSD Doubles Likelihood of Having It in Later Life
People who experience post-traumatic stress disorder may be twice as likely to have dementia later in life, according to a new study — a finding with important implications for the coronavirus pandemic. The disorder occurs when symptoms from a psychological trauma disrupt daily functioning for at least a month. The nation has been reeling from the impact of the deadly novel coronavirus for over seven months. Almost a third of Americans are suffering from clinical symptoms of depression or generalized anxiety, according to a report from the CommonWealth Fund. The national public health group Well Being Trust, estimated that as many as 75,000 Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse or suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The risk of experiencing pandemic-related trauma that could turn into PTSD is heightened for frontline doctors and nurses and families who have lost loved ones and ill patients, experts say, especially if they have been on ventilators. Intubation is known to be associated with some of the highest rates of medical PTSD, “with 35% of ICU survivors having clinically significant PTSD symptoms 2 years subsequent to the ICU care,” according to Michigan Medicine’s department of psychiatry. In addition, a group of 24 international mental health experts worry that the severe acute respiratory syndrome that occurs in some patients with Covid-19 could infect the brain or trigger immune responses that are detrimental to brain function and mental health in patients. The experts expressed their concerns in a paper published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal in April.
“PTSD, which appears to be common among people who have been hospitalized with Covid-19, remains an underdiagnosed, undertreated, and under researched mental health condition, yet it can have serious long-term consequences,” said senior author Vasiliki Orgeta, an associate professor in the division of psychiatry at University College London, in a statement. “Our study provides important new evidence of how traumatic experiences can impact brain health, and how the long-term effects of trauma may impact the brain in many ways increasing vulnerability to cognitive decline and dementia,” Orgeta said.
“I am not shocked at all that the most severe levels of stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, is associated with dementia,” said neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, founder of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. “In the last decade or so, there’s just been an explosion of evidence that stress is absolutely as important as a risk factor for so many chronic medical conditions from Alzheimer’s to diabetes and heart disease,” Isaacson said. Twice the risk for non-miilitary. Calling the research “the first meta-analysis of global evidence on PTSD and dementia risk,” the study looked at data on nearly 1.7 million people from 13 studies done on four continents.
People with PTSD faced a 1 to 2 times higher risk of dementia up to 17 years later, according to pooled data from eight of the studies. And it wasn’t military veterans who were at highest risk. People with PTSD in the general population — possibly from physical or sexual abuse, threat of death, car accidents, terrorism or other trauma — were more than twice as likely to develop dementia as adults with no such diagnosis. Veterans with PTSD were one and half times more likely to develop dementia than vets without PTSD. Between seven or eight of every 100 people will experience PTSD in their lifetime, according to the National Center for PTSD, a program of the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, in which a person relives the traumatic event in some manner, and include physical symptoms such as a racing heart or sweating. Reoccurring memories or nightmares are also a sign.
People with PTSD will also try to avoid thoughts or feelings related to the trauma, and they can often change their behavior to stay away from people, places or objects that are reminders of the experience. Cognition and emotional behavior can change with PTSD — having negative or distorted thoughts, having trouble concentrating or remembering, losing interest in activities, feeling isolated and being unable to feel happiness are all common for people with the disorder. A heightened state of arousal is another key sign. Symptoms include being easily startled, feeling on guard or irritable, behaving in risky or destructive ways or having angry and aggressive outbursts.
It’s not entirely clear why PTSD would bring on dementia, but many of the symptoms of the disorder, such as hypervigilance and re-experiencing the trauma would certainly put the brain on high alert, flooding it with stress hormones, the study suggested. And since resilience from PTSD is associated with social support and more positive thinking, becoming moody and isolated from family and friends may “reduce cognitive reserve and resilience,” the study said. “Is post-traumatic stress disorder a modifiable risk factor? I would say yes,” Isaccson said. “If we can recognize it, we can mitigate it with stress reduction techniques, with seeing qualified medical professionals, by using pharmacologic and non-pharmacological treatments, by seeing a psychiatrist or seeing a therapist. We also need more research on how to minimize stress in order to protect brain health over time.” [Source: CNN | Sandee LaMotte | September 16, 2020 ++]
Update 01: DVBIC Study Focuses on Concussion-Related
Headaches are the most common form of pain, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. Service members with concussion-related headaches often experience more frequent and severe pain compared to those with headaches unrelated to this condition, according to recently published data from the Warrior Strong Study. This multi-year research project was conducted by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVCIC), a division of the Defense Health Agency Research and Development Directorate.
Headaches remain the most frequently reported symptom among service members who have sustained concussions, also known as mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Seventy-four percent of participants in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom had post-traumatic headaches within 30 days of sustaining a concussion, as reported by DVBIC. Between 2009 and 2015, DVBIC researchers surveyed more than 1,500 soldiers, and then followed up with them after three months, then again after six months, and finally, a year later. “We wanted to find out how active-duty soldiers were doing after coming back from the war zone with concussion,” said Karen Schwab, DVBIC researcher and the study’s principal investigator. Ultimately, the findings may inform DVBIC’s future clinical recommendations and guidelines in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of concussions in the U.S. armed forces.
In total, researchers interviewed 1,567 soldiers from combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq during post deployment health assessments at Fort Carson, Colorado and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Participants answered 31 headache-related questions to help researchers identify post-traumatic headaches. The soldiers were asked about how frequent and how painful their headaches were, compared to before they deployed, and if their headaches changed after an injury, illness, or some other event during deployment. Of the 1,094 soldiers who reported headaches, 557 had also experienced concussions. For soldiers whose headaches were related to their concussion, symptoms were more severe and more often led to medical consultation, compared to the group whose headaches were unrelated to TBI. Post-traumatic headaches often resemble migraines, a painful sensation in the head often associated with nausea and sensitivity to light, among other symptoms.
Notably, the gender composition of the Warrior Strong study differed markedly from studies of migraine headaches in civilian populations. Overall, 91% of the Warrior Strong participants and 94% of those with concussions were male. By contrast, civilian clinical studies on migraines are performed on groups that are around 80% women, a reflection of the demographic fact that adult women are two-to-three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. “The evidence base for treating headaches is not specific to post-traumatic headaches. And it may or may not be relevant for treating them. We really don’t know,” said Ann Scher, a professor of epidemiology at Uniformed Services University and the study’s corresponding author.
While there are no specific drug therapies for post-traumatic headaches approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the study results could lead to the design of clinical trials and the development of targeted pharmaceutical remedies, Scher said. Fortunately, there are multiple behavior changes and medical modalities to treat and reduce the severity of post-traumatic headaches; these include improving sleep patterns, muscle relaxation, anxiety reducing techniques, physical therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and acupuncture.
To help patients in their care, DVBIC developed the Headache Virtual Suite to offer health care providers a step-by-step process to determine the type of post-traumatic headaches and guidance on its evaluation and treatment. After her second TBI, former soldier Stephanie Ehlers was told by her medical provider to rest for 24 hours without providing additional therapeutic guidance. When her TBI was more accurately diagnosed a few years later, the former Army Medical Service Corps officer learned various coping methods that set her on the road to recovery. Ehlers, who also described her experiences as part of DVBIC’s educational campaign called ‘A Head for the Future’, concluded by stating, “Early identification and early treatment of TBI is so important.” [Source: Health.mil | September 17, 2020 ++]
Injury Awareness Tool
Microwave Injured Veterans Network (MIVN) provides injury likelihood assessment and treatment awareness to improve continuity of care for veterans that fall into this currently unrecognized injury category. The organization conducted an eight-year-long exhaustive literary review and interviewed subject matter experts, including Nobel-prize winning physicists, many doctors, attorneys, researchers, and also veterans that worked closely with microwave systems. Most of the veterans that seek assistance typically worked in radio and communications fields, but not all. Some microwave injured veterans worked as roving patrol, shore patrol, military police, who walked the perimeter guarding low ground microwave radiation devices. Some microwave injured veterans drove tanks for a living.
If you are a veteran and suspect that you may be suffering from a microwave radiation injury, MIVN encourages you to fill out their complimentary injury awareness tool at www.microwavedvets.com/tool and they will help you as best they can to find some relief. They will share a list of treatment options with you that is specific to your symptoms on a case-by-case basis. Each Veteran is different. Think of microwave injury as similar to a peanut allergy. Some people are more sensitive to peanuts than others. The same is true of microwave injury. Some people are more sensitive to microwave radiation than others. Sensitivity has nothing to do with toughness or fortitude or willpower. Sensitivity has to do with biology, chemistry, and physics. Most treatments that they raise awareness about are in the VA formulary or sold at a local pharmacy.
MIVN is seeking a VA presumptive illness category through legislative change. The more voices, the better. If you are not a microwave injured veteran but would like to add your voice to change current legislation, then membership is complimentary. MIVN believes that microwave injured veterans should be treated exactly the same way as other injured veterans. Their service should not be diminished just because the injury is not visible. A microwave injured Veteran is battling a war against unstable cells, and the injury is a lifetime injury with biological fingerprints that lead back to the event date. This is why they are able to reconstruct the likelihood of injury dating back decades if needed. The pathology is very distinct, and that is to your benefit in reconstructing the likelihood of injury.
MIVN created the website www.Microwavedvets.com because Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-20-CA) agreed to take up their cause for the creation of a new VA presumptive illness category in Congress if it can be shown that there is a significant number of veterans suffering from microwave injury. He also served in the Middle East, and he has a heart for helping veterans. Microwave injury is not an injury that can be fought alone. It requires an entire treatment team involving all kinds of specialists who understand the pathology and communicate with one another to improve the Veteran’s treatment. In summary, a new presumptive illness category for microwave injured veterans would streamline administrative processes and allow the VA specialists to provide a holistic approach to making the veteran whole. [Source: Together We Served | Steven Lucas | September 7, 2020 ++]
Update 03: New Treatment Halts Tooth Decay with No Drilling
Silver diamine fluoride, an antimicrobial liquid medication, can be painted on teeth to stop decay in its tracks. The low-cost, pain-free technique is being used to treat cavities in patients who are not good candidates for fillings, such as the very young and the elderly, according to a Kaiser Health News report. The alternate method of treating cavities is relatively new in the U.S. but has been used in other countries for decades. It has one big drawback. According to KHN: “Its biggest downside is that it permanently turns the decayed area black — a turnoff, in particular, for people with decay on a front tooth.” Fortunately, dental providers can cover the black spot with tooth-colored material for an additional cost.
In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved silver diamine fluoride for use in reducing tooth sensitivity. But many dentists began to use it in a so-called “off-label” manner to treat cavities, KHN reports. While it has gained attention as a treatment for cavities in children under the age of 5, silver diamine fluoride also increasingly is used to treat cavities in older patients who either cannot make it to the dentist’s office or who do not have dental insurance and cannot afford to pay for fillings. Dental hygienists often provide such care to seniors in nursing homes and homeless shelters, or at low-cost clinics, KHN says. The treatment can be an effective alternative to traditional fillings. A recent study found that a single application of silver diamine fluoride stops decay in 60% to 70% of cases. Following up with a second application six months later pushes that success rate above 90%.
Because the silver treatment is relatively new in this country and can leave a stain, the Colorado state legislature passed a law in 2018 that says hygienists must have an agreement with a supervising dentist to apply it. The law also requires them to get special training on how to use the liquid, which at least 700 hygienists from across the state have completed. Other states, including Maryland and Virginia, have no special requirements for applying the cavity treatment but require some supervision by a dentist, said Matt Crespin, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. In those places, hygienists apply it under the same rules that govern the application of other fluoride products.
In addition to killing cavity-causing bacteria, the treatment hardens tooth structure, desensitizes the tooth and even stops new cavities from forming. Applying the liquid on the exposed root surfaces of older adults once a year is “a simple, inexpensive, and effective way” to prevent cavities, a 2018 study concluded. One of the most important benefits of the application on older patients is that the liquid can reach decay that forms under existing dental work such as crowns and bridges, said dental hygienist Michelle Vacha, founder of Community Dental Health, which runs clinics in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Colorado. Previously, a dentist would have had to remove the crown, drill out the cavity and make a new crown — a traumatic, time-consuming procedure with a typical cost of $1,000 or more, Vacha said. Unable to afford the cost, many patients would instead have the tooth pulled.
The paint-on liquid is significantly cheaper than traditional treatment. Estimates vary, but a private dentist may charge $10 to $75 for one application, compared with $150 to $200 for a filling. Hygienists often have lower fees. At Vacha’s community clinics, the cost is $10 a tooth. About half of state Medicaid programs now reimburse for the treatment, said Steve Pardue, scientific officer of Elevate Oral Care that distributes Advantage Arrest, the main brand of the topical medication used nationally. Reimbursement rates range from $5 to $75 per application. More private insurers — about 20% to 30% of them — have also started covering it, Pardue said.
It’s a good option for those who have anxiety about dental work or concerns about cost, said Dr. Janet Yellowitz, director of geriatric and special care dentistry at the University Of Maryland School Of Dentistry. Yellowitz noted that dentists still have a financial incentive to drill and fill. She has made presentations highlighting the benefits of the silver solution at national conferences. A 2017 survey by the American Dental Association found that almost 8 in 10 dentists had never used the treatment. The ADA doesn’t have more recent statistics, but ADA spokesperson Matthew Messina said anecdotal reports indicate usage is increasing dramatically. “We’re trying to get everyone to use it,” she said. “It’s a slow process because we’re asking dentists who have been trained for their whole careers to do things one way to completely change their mentality. It’s like asking them to go to another country and drive on the other side of the road.” [Source: KHN | Michelle Crouch | September 15, 2020 ++]
Drug Cost Increases
Update 20: Sen. Bernie Sanders Blasts AstraZeneca for Raising Prices
Bernie Sanders on 14 SEP was among critics denouncing AstraZeneca—one of the world’s biggest and most profitable pharmaceutical corporations—for aggressively raising the prices of some of its best-selling drugs in recent months, even after it secured a more than $1 billion taxpayer handout for the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. The Los Angeles Times reports AstraZeneca has implemented two rounds of price hikes for some of its most popular medications in 2020. In January, the U.K.-based company announced it would modestly raise prices on 13 different products. Shortly after the company’s January announcement, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated around the world. AstraZeneca subsequently instituted price hikes that were much steeper than some of its top competitors.
The price of some AstraZeneca drugs has increased by up to 6%, according to an investigation by the Times and 46brookyln Research, a nonprofit group focusing on the pharmaceutical industry. According to Pharm Exec, AstraZeneca is the world’s 11th-largest pharmaceutical company by 2019 sales. The Times reports it enjoyed over $3.6 billion in operating profits over the first half of 2020. News of the price hikes sparked condemnation from progressive leaders and activists. “It’s outrageous for Big Pharma to use the pandemic as an opportunity to raise prices on life-saving medicine,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made Medicare for All—including prescription drugs—a pillar of his near-miss 2020 presidential run, tweeted on 14 SEP. “Big drug companies don’t need more subsidies. We need to end their greed.”
“Pharma corporations are sophisticated political actors that understand this is a risky time to be seen increasing prices, and yet these corporations are addicted to price increases,” Peter Maybarduk, who oversees drug policy for the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen, told the Times. In April, AstraZeneca entered talks with Oxford University to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, and the following month the company secured $1.2 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services to produce at least 300 million doses of a vaccine by January 2021. HHS Secretary Alex Azar, a former executive at U.S. drugmaker Eli Lilly, hailed the contract as a “major milestone.”
However, AstraZeneca’s work on a Covid-19 vaccine hit a significant barrier last week, with U.S. and U.K. clinical trials temporarily paused after a patient developed a potentially dangerous complication. Trials partially resumed on Monday in the U.K., while they remain on hold in the U.S. pending an investigation into the British patient. Oxford University has also come under fire in Britain after the prestigious institution changed course under pressure from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from a plan to make any Covid-19 vaccine available for free or at a very low cost to signing the deal with AstraZeneca. The company said in July that it will not profit from its Covid-19 vaccine, although critics have noted that there is no way to guarantee that it won’t, and the Oxford deal gives AstraZeneca sole rights without any affordability requirement.
News of the latest Big Pharma price hike came a day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order he said will lower prescription drug prices. Critics immediately dismissed Trump’s move as an election year publicity stunt. The administration has not commented on AstraZeneca’s move. Although the government has committed to providing pharmaceutical companies with over $10 billion in taxpayer funding to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, the administration has not required them to disclose how much they would charge for it.
The United States has the world’s highest prescription drug prices. According to 2019 data from the House Ways and Means Committee, U.S. drug prices are nearly four times higher than the combined average price for 11 other similar countries. “With one exception, we found that individual drug prices in the U.S. ranged from 70% (Lantus Solostar—a type of insulin) to 4,833% (Dulera—a prescription asthma medication) higher than the combined mean price in the other 11 countries,” the report states. “Compared to individual countries, drug prices in the U.S. ranged from 0.6 to 67 times the price for the same drugs.”
While prices for most medical goods and services are rising, drug prices are increasing the fastest, according to a 17 SEP GoodRx report. Researchers compared data on the prices of medical goods and services from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index to data on drug list prices from the GoodRx Drug List Price Index to find prescription drug prices have increased by 33 percent since 2014, the largest surge among all price increases for medical goods and services. Other medical services, such as care provided in inpatient hospital settings, nursing homes and dental practices, increased by 30 percent, 23 percent and 19 percent, respectively. GoodRx’s findings on prescription cost surges comes alongside recent findings that 25 percent of American women have forgone their medications and 10 percent of Americans have rationed their medications due to unaffordability. A recent Gallup poll found that one in five U.S. households were unable to afford medication prescribed by a doctor. [Source: www.nationofchange.org | Brett Wilkins | September 15, 2020 ++]
Coronavirus SITREP 13
Covid-19 Real Stats
In the first insights from the new Franklin Templeton–Gallup research project on the behavioral response to the COVID-19 pandemic and implications for the recovery they found a gross misperception of COVID-19 risk, driven by partisanship and misinformation, and a willingness to pay a significant “safety premium” that could affect future inflation. The first round of their Franklin Templeton–Gallup Economics of Recovery Study has already yielded three powerful and surprising insights:
- Americans still misperceive the risks of death from COVID-19 for different age cohorts—to a shocking extent;
- The misperception is greater for those who identify as Democrats, and for those who rely more on social media for information; partisanship and misinformation, to misquote Thomas Dolby, are blinding us from science; and;
- They find a sizable “safety premium” that could become a significant driver of inflation as the recovery gets underway.
Six months into this pandemic, Americans still dramatically misunderstand the risk of dying from COVID-19:
- On average, Americans believe that people aged 55 and older account for just over half of total COVID-19 deaths; the actual figure is 92%.
- Americans believe that people aged 44 and younger account for about 30% of total deaths; the actual figure is 2.7%.
- Americans overestimate the risk of death from COVID-19 for people aged 24 and younger by a factor of 50; and they think the risk for people aged 65 and older is half of what it actually is (40% vs 80%).
These results are nothing short of stunning. Mortality data have shown from the very beginning that the COVID-19 virus age-discriminates, with deaths overwhelmingly concentrated in people who are older and suffer comorbidities. This is perhaps the only uncontroversial piece of evidence we have about this virus. Nearly all US fatalities have been among people older than 55; and yet a large number of Americans are still convinced that the risk to those younger than 55 is almost the same as to those who are older.
FEAR OF HEALTH CONSEQUENCES FROM COVID-19 VS. ACTUAL MORTALITY DATA, BY AGE BRACKET
This misperception translates directly into a degree of fear for one’s health that for most people vastly exceeds the actual risk: we find that the share of people who are very worried or somewhat worried of suffering serious health consequences should they contract COVID-19 is almost identical across all age brackets between 25 and 64 years old, and it’s not far below the share for people 65 and older. The discrepancy with the actual mortality data is staggering: for people aged 18–24, the share of those worried about serious health consequences is 400 times higher than the share of total COVID deaths; for those age 25–34 it is 90 times higher. The chart below truly is worth a thousand words:
Our question asks about fear of serious health consequences, not fear of death, but the evidence to-date indicates that the two follow a very similar age distribution; indeed the CDC has clearly stated on its website that “Among adults, the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at the highest risk.” Recent concerns of possible adverse long-term consequences are by necessity speculative, since we obviously do not have long-term data yet.
For the last six months, we have all read and talked about nothing but COVID-19; how can there be still such a widespread, fundamental misunderstanding of the basic facts? Our poll results identify two major culprits: the quality of information and the extreme politicization of the COVID-19 debate:
- People who get their information predominantly from social media have the most erroneous and distorted perception of risk.
- Those who identify as Democrats tend to mistakenly overstate the risk of death from COVID-19 for younger people much more than Republicans.
This, sadly, comes as no surprise. Fear and anger are the most reliable drivers of engagement; scary tales of young victims of the pandemic, intimating that we are all at risk of dying, quickly go viral; so do stories that blame everything on your political adversaries. Both social and traditional media have been churning out both types of narratives in order to generate more clicks and increase their audience. The fact that the United States is in an election year has exacerbated the problem. Stories that emphasize the dangers of the pandemic to all age cohorts and tie the risk to the Administration’s handling of the crisis likely tend to resonate much more with Democrats than Republicans. This might be a contributing factor to why, in our survey results, Democrats tend to overestimate the risk of dying from COVID-19 for different age cohorts to a greater extent than Republicans do.
Our susceptibility to how the information is presented also plays a role. The same data can be portrayed in different forms on a graph—some reassuring and some alarming. Our study finds that how the data are presented has a very strong impact on people’s attitudes. For example, respondents who were shown COVID-19 case trends for Texas and Florida in isolation were much less willing to reopen schools and businesses than those who were shown the same trends compared to New York. And more alarming graphics tend to be used more frequently, as they generate greater engagement. This misinformation has a very concrete adverse impact. Our study results show that those who overstate deaths among young people are more cautious about making purchases, more reluctant to travel, and favor keeping businesses and schools shut.
Here again, we find a significant difference across partisan lines. According to our study, political affiliation is as powerful as age in predicting whether someone would be likely to eat at a restaurant indoors; Democrats have roughly the same willingness to eat in a restaurant at 25% capacity as Republicans do in a restaurant at full capacity. Individual risk from COVID-19 depends on age and health, but perceived risk depends on one’s politics— and it’s perceived risk that drives behavior. Conversely, previous Gallup research has found that Republicans have been less likely to accept public health guidelines like wearing a mask, regardless of the local rate of infection—again evidence that partisanship plays an important role.
This misinformation also causes another fundamental problem. The policy decision of what activities to keep shut and for how long is a very difficult and consequential one. It requires balancing two opposite effects of uncertain scale: on the one hand the benefits in terms of slowing COVID-19 contagion, on the other hand the harm to the economy and to people’s long-term health and livelihoods. This decision is strongly influenced by public perceptions of dangers, not only because politicians are sensitive to the public’s concerns but also because politicians are people too, subject to some of the same biases. Our poll results suggest fundamental misperceptions of the risk of death or serious adverse health consequences from COVID-19 could be distorting these decisions.
Everything has a price. In several industries, resuming activity while limiting contagion risk implies extra costs or reducing the number of customers. The extent to which these costs will be passed on to consumers in higher prices will depend—among other things—on the extent to which people are willing to pay for the extra safety. To test this, in our poll we asked people “Assume you are purchasing a plane ticket for personal travel for $500. Would you be willing to pay the following extra amounts to ensure an empty seat next to you?” The results are striking:
- About half of our respondents would be willing to pay up to $100 more, a 20% price increase;
- Between a quarter and a third of respondents would be willing to pay up to an additional $150, a 30% price increase;
- Between one in ten and one in three of our respondents would be willing to pay an additional $250, a full 50% price increase; and
- The more often people fly, the more willing they are to pay extra.
A prolonged recession would depress incomes and demand, but a combination of bankruptcies and safety requirements might cause a corresponding cut in supply. If those who can afford it are willing to pay significantly more for extra perceived safety, we might see a significant rise in inflation down the line. And, higher inflation would further exacerbate the rise in inequality caused by the recession.
Franklin Templeton launched this joint project to gain a deeper insight into people’s behavioral response to the pandemic, because we believe it will play a crucial role in shaping the economic recovery. The first round of polls has already yielded surprising insights that raise some concern for the outlook, but also highlight important calls to action. From a public interest perspective, we believe the top priority should be better information and a less partisan, more fact-based public debate. It is shocking that six months into the pandemic so many people still ignore the basic mortality statistics, with perceived risk driven by political leanings rather than individual age and health. Misperceptions of risk distort both individual behavior and policy decisions.
The fact that a large share of the population overestimates the COVID-19 danger to the young will make a targeted public health response more difficult to agree on. We think it is also likely to delay the recovery, causing a deeper and prolonged recession. The first results also reveal that people will be willing to pay a significant premium for safety. Combined with a likely hit to supply from the pandemic, this might give an unexpected boost to inflation somewhere down the line. Policymakers should be mindful of this for several reasons, one being that it might exacerbate the rise of inequality from a pandemic that already discriminates against the most vulnerable workers (concentrated in the hardest- hit service sectors) and disadvantaged children (through prolonged school closures). In Franklin Templeton’s view, investors should also start thinking about the impact of inflation reawakening from a decades-long slumber.
[Source: Frontlines of Freedom Newsletter | Dr. Sonal Desai | September 17, 2020 ++]
Covid-19 Fake Cures
Update 03: Intravenous Vitamin C
Intravenous vitamin C is an unproven treatment for COVID-19 and for the complex, often-deadly bodily reaction of sepsis that can result from infectious diseases including COVID-19. Nevertheless, TruthInAdvertising.org has identified more than 40 clinics (or “medical spas” as they sometimes call themselves) promoting “immunity drips” for treatment or prevention of COVID-19. The Federal Trade Commission has warned these companies to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their intravenous nutrient drips can treat or prevent COVID-19. The drips may contain, in addition to megadoses of vitamin C, B vitamins, zinc and an antioxidant called glutathione. Many clinics promoting intravenous drips also promote unproven ozone treatments. On April 1, 2020, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a trade group devoted to advancing naturopathic medicine as a profession, issued a press release prematurely promoting intravenously administered vitamin C as an adjunctive treatment for moderate to severe cases of COVID-19.
Dr. Charles Mok, who operates Allure Medical Spa, PLLC in Shelby Township, Michigan has been charged in a criminal complaint for health care fraud scheme that included allegedly submitting false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for high-dose intravenous vitamin C infusions to patients at risk of contracting COVID-19, especially those working on the frontlines, and to those who tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Mok made unsubstantiated claims in multiple launch videos that vitamin C reduces the severity of symptoms, duration of illness, and therefore the contagiousness of COVID-19 and significantly increases the immunity system of those who have a high risk for contracting the virus. There are currently no known U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccines or drugs to treat COVID-19.
For more information:
- No evidence to support intravenous high-dose vitamin C in the management of COVID-19. Department of Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australian Government. March 27, 2020.
- IV therapies and COVID-19. The drip, drip, drip of deceptive claims. TruthInAdvertising.org. June 3, 2020.
- Vitamin C didn’t improve septic shock in VITAMINS trial. PulmCCM. February 9, 2020.
- Gorski D. The FTC cracks down on iV Bars for false advertising claims about its “intravenous micronutrient therapy”. Science-Based Medicine. September 24, 2018.
[Source: Center for Inquiry | William M. London | September 4, 2020 ++]
Update 09: Television Commercial for Zshield Face Shields Criticized
ZShield is a line of “NEW Ultra-Lightweight PPE” (tryzshield.com) manufactured by ZVerse and advertised as made-in-America, clear, reusable, and washable face shield with an innovative neck mount design “so you can wear it comfortably all day” and which “tilts down whenever you like.” The line includes shields for both children and adults. Its commercial states: “Not everyone can wear a mask all day” and claims that ZShield “wraps your face providing a barrier to respiratory droplets.” A disclaimer appears in small print near the bottom of the screen for about 7 seconds: “The ZVerse Face Shield is not intended or approved as a replacement for other PPE, including but not limited to masks.” The 350-word disclaimer in the product’s website includes these words: ZVerse makes no warranty that the products will:
(a) Meet a buyer’s requirements or intended purposes or uses;
(b) Prevent the spread or incurrence of any illness, virus, or bacteria; . . .
(d) Be fit for the purpose(s) and indications described in the applicable product labeling, packaging, advertising, or marketing;
(e) Perform in accordance with ZVerse’s published specifications. . . . A buyer accepts that the products are a physical barrier only and do not provide protection against any airborne illnesses, viruses, or bacteria.
ZShields shields are plastic barriers that can intercept droplets aimed directly at them, but they are open at the sides and don’t protect others from airborne viral transmission as masks do. In some settimgs, they may be advantageous to wear in addition to a mask. But Clay Jones, M.D. who looked at the information provided on their website has concluded: If a person is wearing a face shield that is open at the top, as all ZShield products except for the one marketed to healthcare professionals are, they are within roughly 3 feet of the source, and their head is situated below said source, their face shield will inconveniently collect falling infected respiratory droplets and direct them towards the eyes, mouth, and nose. . . .
The manufacturers of ZShield appear to be choosing comfort and ease of use/customer preference over effectiveness in the design of products that they are selling to the general public. It’s dangerous to promote what is essentially an untested medical device with such low likelihood of preventing the spread of COVID-19. And the degree to which they’ve contorted the available scientific studies and expert recommendations to give the appearance of legitimate protection is wrong. [Source: Consumer Health Digest #20-37 | Stephen Barrett, M.D | September 20, 2020 ++]]
Update 14: Army’s May Produce a Side Benefit: Cure for the Common Cold
Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are advancing a vaccine that may be able to prevent strains of the common cold in the future. But their immediate concern is the imminent flu season because nearly seven months since receiving their first samples of the novel coronavirus from a Washington state patient, they still don’t know whether catching the flu could increase the chances of getting COVID-19. “When this virus emerged, it was sort of coming toward the tail end of the flu season. And now we have both, at the same time, and we don’t know what that’s going to look like,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of emerging infectious diseases at Walter Reed in Maryland. “If you get sick with flu, is that going to make you more susceptible of getting COVID or risk of it, or vice versa? We don’t know that.”
The vaccine that Modjarrad and his team are working on would target not just COVID-19, but also other coronavirus-related illnesses, including several variants of the common cold. “Most children, by age two or three, have been infected with one of these common cold coronaviruses,” Modjarrad said. “I don’t think people are really focused on trying to prevent the common cold, but that is, I think, an important side benefit of what we are trying to do,” he told McClatchy in an interview. While the Walter Reed vaccine candidate is currently focused on COVID-19, the lab has structured the vaccine to be able to target different types of coronavirus. Once they have “proof of concept” that the vaccine is safe and effective, Modjarrad said, the Army lab will decide whether to pivot their efforts to creating the “pan-coronavirus” vaccine that would help prevent the common cold and other potential novel coronaviruses.
Modjarrad said that they are currently testing their vaccine in monkeys, and depending on the results, will enter into human trials toward the end of the year. From preliminary research in mice, the vaccine has generated “extremely high levels of antibodies” that neutralize the coronavirus, and has also demonstrated a strong safety profile, he said. Walter Reed’s researchers have also found that there is very little mutation occurring in the virus. That means just one vaccine could work for the entire global population — whether the COVID-19 variant originated in China or whether it was the one that came into the United States from Europe, which is the most common type now, said Dr. Morgane Rolland, chief of viral genetics for the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, which is supporting Walter Reed’s research.
National Coverage. Local Perspectives.
“There’s really one strain, and that’s enough to make a vaccine,” Rolland said. “In terms of vaccine purposes, the virus is not a moving target.” Rolland’s team just finished looking at the genetic sequences of 27,000 people who have had COVID. Viruses will mutate when spreading from one human to another, or an animal to human, because of the chance that not all of the tens of thousands of genomes will replicate exactly when they enter a new host, Rolland said. What Rolland’s team found is that there were very few mutations. They think that is because COVID-19 spread so rapidly that the virus didn’t have a chance to mutate. “At this point the vaccine would cover all the diversities that we are seeing in sequences that are spreading around the world,” Rolland said.
Modjarrad said that individuals should not be concerned with receiving a flu vaccine in close proximity to an eventual vaccine for COVID-19, and encouraged all Americans to get vaccinated for the flu early in the season. “I think it’s important that we have people understand that we have some of these effective tools in place that could actually indirectly bring down the burden of disease and death for COVID-19 by doing our due diligence in taking care of the flu as well,” Modjarrad said. A flu shot does not make the individual more susceptible to getting ill, and it will not interfere with a potential COVID vaccine, as neither contain live virus, Modjarrad said. A flu mist or nose spray that is taken instead of a shot, does use live flu virus. He recommends that any live-virus vaccines be spaced out and not administered at the same time as another live-virus vaccine, such as for measles.
At the outset of flu season, public health experts have grown increasingly concerned that the annual pressures on hospitals and health care workers will be exacerbated by the pandemic coronavirus, which spreads more easily without heat and humidity and has already led to nearly 200,000 deaths in the United States. The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans each year, and hospitalizes hundreds of thousands, raising concerns about straining the availability of hospital beds and personal protective equipment for frontline workers that may be needed in the event of a coronavirus surge. [Source: Impact 2020 | Tara Copp & Michael Wilner | September 14, 2020 ++]
* Finances *
Vet COLA 2021
Update 02: Will be Same Boost as Social Security Beneficiaries
Veterans receiving government benefits will see a cost-of-living boost in 2021, if Social Security officials approve one for their recipients later this year. On 24 SEP, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to link the two federal payouts, sending it to the White House to become law. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure in the next few days. The bill is not controversial, and routinely passes Congress each year without opposition. But, under current law, lawmakers must approve linking the two increases in order for veterans to see the pay boost. Efforts to permanently tie the two sets of increases have made little progress in recent years.
In a statement, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) and committee ranking member Jon Tester (D-MT) praised the bill’s passage as important for veterans and the country. “Our men and women in uniform deserve to have Washington in their corner working tirelessly to ensure they can keep up with the rising costs of housing, utilities, and food when they return to civilian life,” Tester said. “Today’s passage is a clear sign that we’re making good on our promises to those who’ve served.” Earlier this year, bill sponsor Rep. Eliane Luria (D-VA) called it Congress’ “duty” to ensure veterans’ benefits keep pace with rising costs.
Social Security officials are expected in coming weeks to announce the size of the annual cost-of-living adjustment, if there is one. Last year, the figure was 1.6 percent. Two years ago, it was 2.8 percent. Veterans benefits covered include disability compensation, compensation for dependents, clothing allowances, and dependency and indemnity compensation checks. If there is a COLA increase to benefits checks, it will go into effect starting this December. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Leo Shane III | September 24, 2020 ++]
Update 01: Biden/Trump Plans & Potential Impact
Social Security: It might be one of the hottest topics of this presidential campaign season. But when anyone can post anything on social media and even the candidates themselves have hurled falsehoods at each other, it can be seemingly impossible to tell where a candidate stands, especially on a hot-button issue like Social Security. To give you a better understanding of where the challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, stands, MoneyTalksNews dissected his Social Security plans as detailed in his official platform. They did the same for incumbent President Donald Trump as well, although he has formally said little about his Social Security plans.
1. Increased Social Security taxes for high-wage earners.
Biden’s plan: “… asking Americans with especially high wages to pay the same taxes on those earnings that middle-class families pay.” Specifically, Biden’s plan calls for “raising payroll taxes for workers with more than $400,000 in earnings.” The change is in an effort to improve Social Security’s long-term solvency, according to his campaign website, but his campaign did not respond to questions about this proposal or others in this article. Currently, there is an earnings cap for the 6.2% Social Security tax that is withheld from employees’ paychecks (the “payroll tax”) and the 6.2% Social Security tax that employers pay on behalf of employees. For 2020, the cap is $137,700. That means the Social Security payroll tax applies only to a worker’s first $137,700 in earnings. In other words, Americans who earn more than $137,700 currently do not owe Social Security taxes on money they earn above that amount.
2. Higher survivor’s benefits for spouses
Biden’s plan: “… allow [a] surviving spouse to keep a higher share of the benefits … raising the monthly payment by about 20% for affected beneficiaries.” When a spouse dies, the household does not continue to receive two Social Security payments each month. Generally, widows and widowers either continue receiving their own benefit or instead receive 100% of the amount their spouse was receiving, known as their survivor’s benefit — whichever is more. Social Security expert Jeff Miller breaks this down further in “If My Spouse Dies, Can I Get Her Social Security?” Biden’s plan presumably would increase the larger of the two amounts that a surviving spouse receives by about 20%. Interestingly, many survivors could increase their monthly payment right now by simply switching from their own benefit to their survivor’s benefit, according to a recent audit by the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. The audit found that many beneficiaries who are eligible for survivor’s benefits don’t even know it — meaning some are missing out on retirement income to which they are entitled.
3. Increased benefits for the oldest retirees
Biden’s plan: ” … provide the oldest beneficiaries — those who have been receiving retirement benefits for at least 20 years — with a higher monthly check to help protect retirees from the pain of dwindling retirement savings.” Biden’s campaign website does not specify how much more these beneficiaries would receive in Social Security benefits under his plan, and his campaign did not respond to a question about this.
4. Let pensioners keep their full benefits
Biden’s plan: “… get rid of the benefit cuts for workers and surviving beneficiaries who happen to be covered by both Social Security and another pension.” This presumably means Biden wants to repeal a provision of the Social Security Act known as the Windfall Elimination Provision, or WEP, which applies to certain government workers. The Biden campaign did not respond to a question about this proposal, but you can learn more about the WEP itself by reading Social Security expert Russell Settle’s column “What’s the Windfall Elimination Provision?”
5. New minimum benefit
Biden’s plan: “… workers who spent 30 years working will get a benefit of at least 125% of the poverty level.” This proposal is in an effort to “revolutionize the Social Security’s minimum benefit, which has deteriorated over time to the point of being entirely ineffective,” Biden’s campaign site explains. The campaign site links to a 2015 report on Social Security policy options from the Congressional Budget Office, which details the problem with the current minimum-benefit formula: It’s tied to prices, whereas the standard-benefit formula is tied to earnings, which tend to grow faster than prices. As a result, fewer people receive the current special minimum benefit each year.
Trump’s plan: “Protect Social Security …”
President Trump’s second-term agenda is more of an outline, with exactly three words about Social Security. But you can judge him by his first term as well. The last time I checked, the Social Security system was still there, albeit a little worse for the wear of this year’s recession, by some estimates. Perhaps the only way that Trump has tried to tinker with the system is via his recent executive memorandum about the Social Security payroll tax. The 8 AUG executive action enables employers to defer the employee portion of the Social Security payroll tax during the last four months of this year. The measure is temporary — the deferred taxes must be repaid in the first four months of 2021 — but Trump has said he would make it permanent next year, effectively creating a four-month-long payroll tax cut.
So as not to hurt Social Security, Trump has said he would use money from the Treasury Department’s general fund to reimburse the Social Security system for the lost income. Trump has not specified, however, whether he would reimburse the Social Security system for only the lost payroll taxes or also for the interest those taxes could have generated for the Social Security system. His campaign didn’t respond to a question about this, either.
Even if Trump succeeds in making his Social Security payroll tax deferral permanent, though, it won’t be anything you haven’t seen before. In February 2012, on the heels of the Great Recession, then-President Barack Obama signed into law the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which extended a payroll tax cut through the end of that year. The 2012 payroll tax cut was financed the same way Trump has proposed financing his would-be payroll tax cut: by “transferring resources from the government’s general coffers to the Social Security Trust Fund,” as Jon Carson, former deputy assistant to Obama and former director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, explained it back then.
What it means for you
If you are worried about the Social Security system, then you are wasting your time by fretting about the latest accusation one presidential candidate hurled at the other or the latest political propaganda you saw on Facebook. No president can do much of anything about Social Security on his (or her) own. When Biden and Trump talk about their plans for Social Security, they are more accurately describing their wish list for the system. The Social Security system is largely enshrined in federal laws like the Social Security Act, which created the system in 1935, and the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, aka FICA, which governs the Social Security payroll tax. And it’s not the president but federal lawmakers who have the power to revise existing federal laws or pass new ones. So, if you are concerned about the system, it’s the Social Security plans of your U.S. senators and U.S. representatives that you should be researching right now.
[MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | September 23, 2020 ++]
SSA COLA 2021
Inflation Adjustment ~1.3% As of AUG
Q. Does the coronavirus pandemic mean we shouldn’t expect another inflation adjustment in Social Security benefits?
A. A quick answer to this question is that there will be an inflation adjustment to Social Security benefits beginning in January 2021, but it will be small.
Inflation adjustments were added to the Social Security program in the early 1970s to protect beneficiaries from increases in inflation. In the 1960s, Social Security benefits were raised each year, but the benefit increase had to be voted on by Congress. People did not expect an automatic adjustment because members of Congress liked to say in their campaigns that they increased benefits each year. The inflation adjustment is tied to the change in the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers. This is the index that is normally cited by the press in stories about inflation. Social Security inflation adjustments reflect the change in the index for a year ending in September of that year.
This means that Social Security beneficiaries will receive an increase in benefits in January 2021 based on the change in the index through September 2020. We still do not have the calculation for September 2020, but we do have the calculation through August 2020. The change in the index for the year ending August 2020 was 1.3%, so the final calculation of the Social Security benefit change will be somewhere close to this figure if nothing dramatic happens this September. The pandemic has had an impact on the size of next year’s Social Security checks. Prices fell in March, April and May, with the declines reflecting lower oil prices during these months. But prices recovered later in the year.
The impact of oil prices on the index highlights other questions about how well the CPI for all urban consumers reflects cost-of-living changes for people on Social Security. A CPI index measures the change in prices of a “market basket” of goods that people buy. The market basket of goods consumed by older Americans can differ from the market basket of urban consumers. For example, older Americans consume more medical services than younger people. This year, the index might be further distorted as a cost-of-living measure because of the changing market basket of goods people have been buying during the pandemic. There is an experimental index, the CPI-E, which attempts to measure inflation of a market basket of goods purchased by the elderly. But it has never been used to calculate the Social Security inflation adjustment.
If you are paying for Medicare out of your benefit check, the inflation adjustment for this year will not be fully reflected in your benefit check. There will also be an adjustment in your Medicare premium that is subtracted from your benefit. This premium adjustment is based on the increased cost of the Medicare program. In other words, you will probably see an increase in your benefit check in January, but it is unlikely to be very large. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Jeff Miller | September 17, 2020 ++]
Prescription Drug Costs
Update 66: Trump Signs New Executive Order on Prices
President Trump signed an executive order 13 SEP that he says lowers prescription drug prices “by putting America first,” but experts said the move is unlikely to have any immediate impact. The action comes nearly two months after the president signed a different executive order with the exact same name but held it back to see if he could negotiate a better deal with drug companies. “If these talks are successful, we may not need to implement the fourth executive order, which is a very tough order for them,” Trump said at the time.
The new executive order repeals the original and expands the drugs covered by Trump’s proposed “most favored nations” pricing scheme to include both Medicare parts B and D. The idea is that Medicare would refuse to pay more for drugs than the lower prices paid by other developed nations. “It is unacceptable that Americans pay more for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same places,” the executive order declares. The new order, like the earlier one, which was signed 24 JUL but not released, prompted quick condemnation from the drug industry. Trump revels in the pushback during campaign speeches, saying he must be doing something right if drug companies are criticizing him.
“The focus of any reforms must be on lowering costs for patients, ensuring patients’ access to medicines, addressing the misaligned incentives in the pharmaceutical supply chain and protecting the critical work being done to end COVID-19,” said Stephen Ubl, president and CEO of the drug industry lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in a statement. “Unfortunately, instead of pursuing these reforms the White House has doubled down on a reckless attack on the very companies working around the clock to beat COVID-19.” Ubl described the order as “an irresponsible and unworkable policy that will give foreign governments a say in how America provides access to treatments and cures for seniors and people struggling with devastating diseases.”
The order calls on the health and human services secretary to “immediately take appropriate steps to implement his rulemaking plan to test a payment model,” putting in place “most favored nations” policy. Translated: As with most executive actions, this only just begins what will be a lengthy bureaucratic process that may or may not ultimately result in the promised policy. A Department of Health and Human Services official said the agency “doesn’t comment on the rulemaking process” when asked how soon this could take effect and what testing a payment model looks like in practice. “The president may be frustrated that he didn’t reach a deal with drugmakers as his announced action is merely a demonstration, and it is very hard to see how it could have any impact in the near future,” said Ian Spatz, a health policy consultant and former drug company executive.
For a president who prides himself on his deal-making skills, the month and a half since he first signed an order on drug pricing is ending without a deal. White House spokesman Judd Deere said the president gave “drug companies a month to come up with a counterproposal,” but the “negotiations did not produce an acceptable alternative, so the President is moving forward.” It’s unclear how fulsome or serious those negotiations were because neither side released much information about the talks. One thing is certain: Trump will tout this order on the campaign trail, just as he did the last one. Older voters are a key part of the coalition that carried Trump into office in 2016, but polls indicate he isn’t doing as well with them this time around. [Source: NPR kbps | Tamara Keith | September 13, 2020 ++]
Tax Forms 2020
What Retirees Need to Know about the New IRS 2020 W-4
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 brought many changes, some of them quite recently. One is that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a new 2020 IRS Form W-4 that is quite different from previous Form W-4s. Another change is that the 2020 tax tables from the IRS created some withholding changes, even for those who did not request a change to their individual withholding. These changes were made because of guidance from the IRS that provided different withholding based on a retiree’s previous tax status. Because of this guidance, some people saw an increase in their tax withholding.
You can verify and update your tax withholding information easily in myPay by clicking on “Federal Withholding” under “Pay Changes” in its menu on the left. To access myPay go to mypay.dfas.mil/mypay.aspx and enter your Log in and password. If you are new to myPay go to mypay.dfas.mil/assets/documents/NewUserGuidance.pdf and see how to get signed up. You can also mail or fax DFAS a new 2020 IRS Form W-4 to request a change in your federal withholding. It’s important to note that you are not required to file a new IRS Form W-4, unless you are claiming exemption from federal taxes. Retirees claiming exemption from federal taxes must submit a new W-4 every year. The word “EXEMPT” must be written above the signature date. On the new IRS W-4 form, Step 1 and Step 5 are the critical steps that need to be filled out. Without this information, DFAS cannot process any updates to your account.
- Step 1 is Personal Information, including filing status. On the new W-4, taxpayers now must choose either Single, Married, or Head of Household instead of the previous statuses where a taxpayer may have chosen, for example, Married with two deductions (M-02) or Single with no deductions (S-00).
- For Step 3 and Step 4, you should follow the instructions carefully. Some retirees have sent W-4s with additional income or withholding that causes their net pay to be zero. DFAS cannot process these, so we will leave the tax withholding as is and send a letter.
- Step 5 is the filer’s signature and date. We cannot process a W-4 that is not signed and dated.
You should keep in mind that DFAS is unable to provide tax advice. If you have tax or withholding questions, we recommend you consult a tax professional or the IRS website at www.irs.gov. You can also use the IRS estimator at: www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator. [Source: DFAS Newsletter | www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter | September 18, 2019 ++]
Online Shopper Scam
Shoppers Expect Deals, but Get Counterfeit Goods
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is driving many retailers out of business. But what’s bad for businesses often means sales for shoppers. Before jumping on what sounds like a great deal, make sure it’s not a con. BBB.org/ScamTracker has gotten many reports about online “going-out-of-business” sales that either don’t exist or don’t live up the hype.
How the Scam Works
- While scrolling through the Facebook feed or searching the web, an advertisement comes up for a going-out-of-business sale. The company is closing because of COVID-19 and selling off their inventory at a great discount.
- If you click on the ad or type in the promoted URL, it leads you to a website selling anything from designer goods to electronics to novelty items. The photos feature products that seem like a great deal and of high quality.
- But if you order something, what arrives isn’t exactly what was expected. Frustrated shoppers report to BBB.org/ScamTracker that the products they receive are much worse quality than what was shown online. For example, one victim ordered $250 worth of “designer” clothes from a New York-based store. Instead, they received low quality items shipped from overseas. “What was supposed to be cotton and/or linen was the worst quality polyester,” they told BBB. “The clothes, in general, were nowhere close to the advertised quality on the website images. Definitely NOT the quality I paid for.”
- Other times, scammers never intend to send you anything at all. They simply steal your credit card information when you are prompted to pay. These phony sites can also download malware onto your computer and give scammers access to your personal information, passwords, and more.
How to avoid fake sales scams
Follow these tips to protect yourself from this and other online shopping scams.
- Know where you shop. Be wary of purchasing items online from retailers you are not familiar with. Even if you are on the website of a reputable company, double check the web address before you make a purchase to be sure scammers haven’t redirected you to an imitation site.
- Use your credit card. Paying with a credit card gives you the advantage of being able to dispute fraudulent charges. This is the safest payment method for purchasing items online.
For More Information
For ways to protect yourself from scammers when shopping online, read BBB.org/ShoppingOnline. For more information about going-out-of-business sales and other issues that arise when a business closes, see BBB Tip: What to Do When a Business Closes… for Good. If you’ve been the victim of an online shopping scam, warn other consumers by reporting the incident in BBB.org/ScamTracker. [Source: BBB Scam Alert | September 18, 2015 ++]
Scammers’ New Favorite Way to Pay
With many businesses and individuals avoiding cash during the pandemic, digital wallets are becoming an increasingly common way to pay. Especially popular – with 30 million downloads in 2020 so far – is CashApp. Con artists are finding clever ways to abuse users’ unfamiliarity with the newly popular app, according to numerous BBB.org/ScamTracker reports.
How the Scam Works
- Scammers are now requesting payment through CashApp, instead of other methods like prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Victims report that they send scammers money through the app and are immediately blocked.
- For example, one target recently told BBB.org/ScamTracker that, after falling for a tech support scam, they were targeted by the con artist to purchase bogus software through CashApp. Another victim tried to buy concert tickets from a seller who claimed to only accept CashApp payments. “I did not know what that was at the time,” wrote the victim. “I was told I could cancel the transaction at any time. I sent the $350.00 for the tickets and was instant blocked.”
- Another common con with CashApp involves fake customer support numbers. People looking for help with their CashApp account often search online for a support phone number. They think they are calling a CashApp representative, but they are really dialing a scammer who posted the phony number online.
- Under the guise of helping fix an issue with the app, the con artist will trick callers into sharing their log in information. Then, the con artist can log in and drain the victim’s CashApp account. In other cases, the scammers trick victims into sending them money or installing malware on their smartphone.
Protect yourself when paying with CashApp:
Here are some BBB tips to avoid political scams:
- No one representing Cash App will ever ask for your sign-in code over the phone or on social media. CashApp support will also never ask for payment or provide sensitive information, such as your full bank account information.
- Be skeptical of any business that requires CashApp payments. If a company claims to only accept CashApp and/or prepaid debit card payments, be very wary. This is a red flag of a scam.
- Double check information before sending money. Verify recipient’s name, CashApp handle, and information before sending them money.
- Link your money transfer app to a credit card. As with many other purchases, using a credit card will help protect you if you don’t get the goods or services you paid for. Linking to a debit card or directly to your bank account does not give you that added protection.
For More Information
For more information about CashApp scams and how to protect your account, see this article. Read more about digital wallet scams and phony customer support phone numbers on BBB.org. If you’ve been a victim of a scam that used CashApp, be sure to report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others to spot a scam before it’s too late.
[Source: BBB Scam Alerts | September 25, 2020 ++]
Spectrum Health Scam
Spectrum Health warned patients 14 SEP of a new “vishing” scam where individuals pretend to be an employee of the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based health system and call patients to steal their protected health information. Spectrum Health said the scam calls are referred to as “vishing,” or when a caller uses flattery or threats to pressure an individual into giving them information, money or access to personal devices. The scam phone calls can also maneuver caller ID to make their call appear to be from a Spectrum Health phone number.
The scammers have posed both as employees of Spectrum Health and its health plan subsidiary, Priority Health. “These are not the type of questions our employees would ask in a legitimate phone call from Spectrum Health or Priority Health,” Scott Dresen, senior vice president and chief information security officer, said in the news release. “For example, we would never ask someone to tell us their password for the Spectrum Health App. Best practice is to be wary of any unexpected call from your healthcare provider.”
To avoid falling victim to the vishing scam, Mr. Dressen recommends patients and members either let the call go to voicemail or hang up any suspicious calls and contact their provider to check whether it was legitimate. Anyone who has received a vishing call should report it to the FCC Consumer Complaint Center at 1-877-FC-Help or www.ftc.gov/complaint , he added. [Source: Beckers Health IT| Jackie Drees | September 15th, 2020 ++]
Update 13: Why Haven’t 19M Homeowners Refinanced Theirs Yet?
As the mortgage refinancing boom rages, millions of homeowners have yet to swap out their old mortgages for new loans at record-low rates. A significant number of Americans are hanging onto 30-year mortgages with rates of 5% or higher. Why are so many homeowners still locked into above-market rates? “The same reason people don’t go to the dentist regularly even though they should – it’s not fun,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst.
Enjoyment aside, mortgage data firm Black Knight says a record 19.3 million homeowners could save money by refinancing. As of July, 7.6 million Americans had 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at rates of 5% or higher, Black Knight says. An additional 17.6 million homeowners had 30-year rates ranging from 4% to 4.875%. The average rate in Bankrate’s weekly survey for the 30-year fixed mortgage is 3.11%. So, a substantial number of homeowners could save on their monthly payments but haven’t. The sheer complexity of the mortgage market could explain some of the reluctance. Qualifying for and closing a mortgage is a complicated transaction with many moving parts. Even savvy consumers can struggle to make sense of mortgage offers that include a jumble of jargon and a wall of numbers.
Paperwork, income interruptions pose hurdles
Applying to refinance can be a tedious process. Borrowers need to compile tax returns, bank statements, paychecks and other documents. Scanning and uploading those documents poses something of a technical hurdle for some. And lenders are looking at the paperwork even more carefully as the pandemic has thrown millions out of work. However, while documentation requirements became more strenuous after the Great Recession, they haven’t changed much in recent years, says Gordon Miller of Miller Lending Group in Cary, North Carolina. “The impression is that it’s harder and more paperwork is required, but if your income isn’t impacted, it’s the same as it was a year ago,” Miller says.
That’s a significant if, of course. Unemployment spiked into the double digits this spring and remained above 8% in August. Many homeowners who’ve had interruptions in their income don’t qualify for refinancing. “Many quality borrowers have taken pay cuts and many others lost their jobs,” Miller says. “High-quality borrowers can become non-quality pretty quick.”
Closing costs can prove daunting
For borrowers who qualify and who are willing to spend the time to apply for a refinance, closing costs are another obstacle. These costs can range from 2% to 5% of the amount of the loan — a sum that can overwhelm the monthly savings. “Refinancing isn’t free, and sometimes it’s tough for people to look past the out-of-pocket costs incurred now for savings that will take years to accumulate,” McBride says. Say you have a $250,000 loan at 3.75%. Your monthly principal and interest is $1,157. If you can lower the rate to 3%, your payment would fall to $1,054, a savings of $103 a month.
But even if your closing costs are $5,000 — at the low end of the 2% to 5% range — you won’t break even on the costs for four years. If you plan to stay in the home for five years and not refinance again in that time, then the refi makes sense. But if you’re planning to sell next year, or to refi again in two years, you’re actually increasing your costs, not saving money. If, on the other hand, you have a loan at 5%, your calculations become simpler. A $250,000 loan at that rate carries a payment of $1,342. Refinancing to a 3% loan would cut your monthly payment by $288 — making the $5,000 in closing costs easier to swallow. Your breakeven point in that case would be less than a year and a half. Lenders have been flooded with refinance applications, so they might not be eager to negotiate on closing costs, Miller says. For a borrower who locked in a good rate in recent years, the prospect of paying $10,000 in closing costs is a deal-breaker.
Waiting for lower rates might not be the right move
Meanwhile, some homeowners haven’t refinanced because they’re holding out for rates to fall even further, says Gino Moro of Southland Mortgage in Hollywood, Florida. He advises them against trying to time rates. “Now is the time to pounce,” Moro says. “There’s a lot of room for rates to go up, and not much room for them to go down.” The economy is another wild card. Many homeowners have had interruptions to their incomes, which makes it harder for them to qualify for new mortgages. Even so, Black Knight says there are 19.3 million homeowners who are in good financial shape and could qualify. The average monthly savings for those refinance candidates is $299 – a total of $5.8 billion a month if all refinance candidates were to take advantage of the opportunity, Black Knight said.
The eye-popping numbers are made possible by a historic decline in mortgage rates. Black Knight’s figures are based on Freddie Mac’s average 30-year rate, which last week fell to a record low of 2.86%. (Freddie Mac’s number is lower because Bankrate’s figure includes points and origination fees averaging 0.33%, while Freddie’s number excludes those costs. Freddie Mac said its average is accompanied by an average of 0.8 of a point.) Rates are at record lows, but mortgages aren’t easy to get. Worried about the effects of the recession and the risks of elevated unemployment, banks have boosted requirements for credit scores and home equity, and they’re scrutinizing borrowers’ employment situations. Overall, lenders have tightened the availability of credit, the Mortgage Bankers Association said last week. The supply of mortgages fell to its lowest level since March 2014.
What you can do
To score the best deal on a mortgage:
- Shop around. Closing costs and rates vary by lender, so get three bids.
- Make sure your credit score is up to par. This is the single most important variable in determining your rate, so make sure to pay your bills on time and to use only a fraction of your available credit limits.
- Understand the breakeven point. That’s the moment at which the savings in monthly payments offset the amount of the closing costs. This refinance calculator can help you decide.
- Don’t chase the lowest rate. Yes, a low rate and paltry payment are good, but make sure those benefits aren’t overwhelmed by closing costs.
- Consider rolling the refi costs into the loan. If you don’t want to come up with the cash, lenders can either absorb the costs by giving you a slightly higher interest rate or increase the principal of your loan to cover these costs. Be sure to work out the costs of this scenario.
[Source: Bankrate.com | Jeff Ostrowski | August 2020 ++]
15 of the Most Outrageous
Retailers’ markup products by hundreds of times their cost — but you don’t have to pay the premium. If you’re a merchant, the only way to profit is to sell stuff for more than you pay for it. As a consumer — whether you’re sipping a martini in a swanky bar or swilling bottled water from the grocery store — you are swallowing that markup. Fortunately, you can save a lot of money simply by paying attention. Following is a list of products with high markups, along with ways to avoid paying a premium.
1. Movie theater popcorn/candy
Concessions such as $5 tubs of popcorn and $6 boxes of gummy worms are big revenue streams for movie theaters. Since most theaters prohibit moviegoers from bringing in outside food and drinks, one way to save is to bypass concessions altogether. Try having a snack at home before you go to help you resist that fresh popcorn smell. For more options, check out “13 Easy Ways to Save Big Bucks at the Movies.”
2. Prescription drugs
Astronomical prescription drug prices — with markups ranging from 200% to 3,000% — are enough to give patients a headache or even an ulcer. To save on prescriptions, ask your doctor about generic substitutes. Comparison shopping is also a great idea. Check out “5 Ways I Slashed My Drug Costs up to 50%.”
Shoppers in the market for a diamond should be prepared to pay anywhere from 50% to 200% more than the wholesale cost, according to TheStreet.com. A diamond’s sparkle may cause shoppers to turn a blind eye to the price tag, but you can land a better deal by understanding what you’re buying and doing a lot of shopping. For more tips, check out “7 Tips to Avoid The Most Common Mistakes When Buying Jewelry.”
4. Bottled water
Bottled water’s markup can be outrageous. Saving is simple: Drink tap water. If you’re concerned about taste or quality, use a water filtration system.
5. Salad bars
Some salad bar items are marked up more than 350%, according to Food Network Magazine. Items that aren’t worth their weight: chickpeas (386% markup over retail), radishes (302%) and baby corn (277%). To get the most for your money, load up on the items that cost less than you’d pay at the grocery store, like bacon bits (55% markdown) and grilled chicken (44% markdown).
6. Eyeglass frames
Dishing out $450 for Armani frames? Fortunately, focusing on warehouse stores and the internet can help you find discounts. Check out “Lookin’ Good! How to Get a Killer Deal on Eyeglasses” for more ways to save.
Order a glass of Coke when you’re dining out, and you will pay a ridiculous amount for what is essentially sugary water. Sure, you know going into a restaurant that you’re paying for the service and ambiance, too. But if you’re looking to save without sacrificing a night out, skip the extras like soda and opt for water instead.
It’s not uncommon for restaurants to charge two or even three times retail for a bottle of wine. So, scan the menu for a reasonably priced bottle. Tip: Look for house wines.
9. Coffee and tea
Lattes are one of life’s little luxuries, but they can be marked up by a crazy amount. If you’re looking to save, start by turning on your coffeemaker at home and bypassing the coffee shop.
10. Bakery goods
Go to a bakery, and you could be paying a budget-busting markup for items that you can instead easily bake at home. Granted, convenience is a factor — especially for labor-intensive treats. But if you’re a big fan of homemade bread, consider spending $50 to $200 on a bread-making machine for your kitchen.You throw in the ingredients, turn it on and walk away until it tells you it’s ready. (Your nose will also alert you!) It’s a relatively small investment to put a wide array of fresh-baked breads at your fingertips.
11. Greeting cards
Greeting cards are simple pieces of paper with a whopping markup. And that’s before factoring in so-called Hallmark holidays. On a budget? Make your own cards — or better yet, if you have school-aged children, have them design one. This will likely amount to a more sincere gesture and will leave a lasting impression. Or, stop by the dollar store. Greeting cards are among the “21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store.”
An orchid can cost up to $25 per stem. Add a holiday like Valentine’s Day or a wedding into the mix, and prices can surge. While disregarding flower purchases altogether isn’t always an option, shopping around for the best price is. Check out online retailers and buy in season to help cut costs.
Buying produce in season is the best way to find a bargain. Look for deals on grapefruit and oranges in January, asparagus in March, and melons in May. Also, steer clear of precut veggies and fruit, which often have a big markup.
14. Furniture and mattresses
Furniture stores usually make a hefty margin, with big markups. Try to shop during sales, but if your timing is off, don’t be afraid to negotiate a better price. Also, take note of the product number and then search online to see if any other retailers offer a lower price. For more tips, check out “12 Ways to Save Big on Furniture That Makes Your Home Sparkle.”
It’s no secret that makeup comes with a big markup. Since most cosmetics are made from various combinations of dirt, oil, wax and fragrance, it’s surprising that shoppers pay such a premium. But thanks to anti-aging claims and celebrity-endorsed marketing, shoppers have been breaking the bank for years to buy products they hope will make them look younger and more beautiful. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to get more bang for your buck when purchasing beauty products. In fact, cosmetics are one of the “7 Things You Can Buy for Next to Nothing at the Drugstore.”
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Ari Cetron | August 25, 2019 ++]
Tax Burden for Idaho Retired Vets
As of Sep 2020
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. States raise revenue in many ways including sales taxes, excise taxes, license taxes, income taxes, intangible taxes, property taxes, estate taxes and inheritance taxes. Depending on where you live, you may end up paying all of them or just a few. Following are the taxes you can expect to pay if you retire in Iowa:
The Idaho state sales tax rate is 6%, and the average IA sales tax after local surtaxes is 6.01%. Counties and cities can charge an additional local sales tax of up to 2.5%, for a maximum possible combined sales tax of 8.5%. Idaho has a higher state sales tax than 69.2% of states
- Prescription Drugs are exempt from the Idaho sales tax
- Idaho has 12 special sales tax jurisdictions with local sales taxes in addition to the state sales tax.
- The Idaho sales tax applies to the sale, rental, or lease of tangible personal property and the sale of some services. There is an additional tax for hotel, motel, and campground accommodations.
- If you buy goods and are not charged the Idaho Sales Tax by the retailer, such as with online and out-of-state purchases, you are supposed to pay the 6% sales tax (less any foreign sales tax paid) for these items yourself as the Idaho Use Tax. You are expected to voluntarily list your liable purchases on a Idaho Use Tax Return, which should be attached with payment to your Idaho Income Tax Return. Historically, compliance rates with the Idaho Use Tax have been low.
- Unlike a Value Added Tax (VAT), the Idaho sales tax only applies to end consumers of the product. Individuals and companies who are purchasing goods for resale, improvement, or as raw materials can use an Idaho Sales Tax Exemption Form to buy these goods tax-free.
- Sales tax exemption forms (as well as business sales tax id applications, sales tax returns, and the full Idaho sales tax code) can be downloaded from the Idaho State Tax Commission here
An excise tax is a tax directly levied on certain goods by a state or federal government. The most prominent excise taxes collected by the Idaho state government are the fuel tax on gasoline and the so-called “sin tax” collected on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. An excise tax is not the same thing as the Idaho Sales Tax. The Idaho Sales Tax is collected as a percentage of the final purchase price of all qualifying sales, and is collected directly from the end consumer of the product. Idaho’s excise taxes, on the other hand, are flat per-unit taxes that must be paid directly to the Idaho government by the merchant before the goods can be sold. Merchants may be required to attach tax stamps to taxable merchandise to show that the excise tax was paid.
Even though excise taxes are collected from businesses, virtually all Idaho merchants pass on the excise tax to the customer through higher prices for the taxed goods. Idaho collects an average of $255 in yearly excise taxes per capita, one of the lowest average per capita excise taxes in the country. Unlike the Idaho Sales Tax, excise taxes are not generally deductible on Idaho income tax returns or on your federal tax return. However, the IRS occasionally allows certain excise taxes to be deducted for certain tax years.
Alcohol: Liquor $10.90 per gal | Wine: $0.45 per gal | Beer: $0.15 per gal. All are already added to their purchase prices. The liquor tax is one of the highest in the country ranked #10 out of the 50 states. The Idaho state government owns all distilled liquor and spirits distributors in the state. Because all liquor stores are state-owned, the excise tax is determined by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). The Idaho liquor tax applies to all hard alcohol (alcoholic beverages other than beer and wine). The wine tax is lower than 72% of the other 50 states and is ranked #36 out of the 50 states. The beer tax is lower than 76% of the other 50 states and is ranked #38 out of the 50 states.
Cannabis Tax: N/A
Cellphone: The average tax collected on cell phone plans in Idaho is $2.20 per phone service plan, one of the lowest cellphone taxes in the country. Idaho’s average cellphone tax is ranked #48 out of the 50 states. The Idaho cellphone tax is already included in the service plan price you pay to your service provider, and may be listed as “Misc. taxes and Fees” or “Other” on your monthly bill.
Cigarettes: The Idaho excise tax on cigarettes is $0.57 per 20 cigarettes, one of the lowest cigarettes taxes in the country. Idaho’s excise tax on cigarettes is ranked #41 out of the 50 states. The Idaho cigarette tax of $0.57 is applied to every 20 cigarettes sold (the size of an average pack of cigarettes). If a pack contains more than 20 cigarettes, a higher excise tax will be collected
Fuel: The Idaho excise tax on gasoline is 25.00¢ per gallon, lower than 54% of the other 50 states. Idaho’s excise tax on gasoline is ranked #27 out of the 50 states. The Idaho gas tax is included in the pump price at all gas stations in Idaho. This is in addition to the federal excise tax of 18.4¢ per gallon on gasoline and 24.4¢ per gallon, on diesel.
Vehicle: Idaho collects a registration fee and a title fee on the sale or transfer of cars and motorcycles, which are essentially renamed excise taxes. Unlike standard excise taxes, however, the end consumer must pay the tax directly to the Idaho Department of Transportation and receive documentation (registration and title papers) proving the fees were paid.
Personal Income Taxes
Tax Rate Range: Low – 1.12%; High – 6.92%
|Tax Bracket (Single)||Tax Bracket (Couple)||Marginal Tax Rate|
Income Brackets: Seven.
Personal Tax Credits: None
Standard Deduction: Filing Status – Single $12,200 – Married $24,400 – Head of Household $18,350 – Over 65 add $1,300 each (($1,650 if single or head of household)
Medical/Dental Deduction: None
Federal Income Tax Deduction: None
Retired Military Pay: Taxed
Social Security: None
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.
- The median property tax in Idaho is $1,188.00 per year for a home worth the median value of $171,700.00. Counties in Idaho collect an average of 0.69% of a property’s assessed fair market value as property tax per year.
- Idaho has one of the lowest median property tax rates in the United States, with only thirteen states collecting a lower median property tax than Idaho.
- Idaho’s median income is $53,517 per year, so the median yearly property tax paid by Idaho residents amounts to approximately 2.67% of their yearly income. Idaho is ranked 33rd of the 50 states for property taxes as a percentage of median income.
- The exact property tax levied depends on the county in Idaho the property is located in. Refer towww.tax-rates.org/idaho/property-tax#Counties for median property taxes by County. Your county’s property tax assessor will send you a bill detailing the exact amount of property tax you owe every year.
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
Other State Tax Rates
To compare the above sales, income, and property tax rates to those accessed in other states go to:
- Sales Tax: www.tax-rates.org/taxtables/sales-tax-by-state.
- Personal Income Tax: www.tax-rates.org/taxtables/income-tax-by-state.
- Property Tax: www.tax-rates.org/taxtables/property-tax-by-state.
For further information visit the Idaho State Tax Commission website tax.idaho.gov/index.cfm, email [email protected] or call (208) 334-7660 / (800) 972-7660. [Source: www.tax-rates.org | September 2020 ++]
* General Interest *
Notes of Interest
September 16 thru 30, 2020
- House Guests. A Pew Research Center report based on data from the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) showed that nearly half of 18 to 29-year-olds in the United States were living with one or both of their parents in March 2020.
- Legislator’s Pay. The salary and benefits paid to Senators and Representatives of the U.S. Congress and the state governments is a constant source of public fascination, debate, and most of all, fake news. Your federal congressmen’s salary and benefits can be seen at www.thoughtco.com/salaries-and-benefits-of-congress-members-3322282. Your state legislator’s salaries, mileage and per diem entitlements can be seen at www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/2020-legislator-compensation.aspx.
- French Air Force. The French Air Force is no more. On 11 SEP it became the French Air and Space Force, completing a process initiated by President Emmanuel Macron in July 2019 when he announced the creation of a space command.
- Medical Errors. In the days following the switch to daylight saving time, human mistakes tied to patient safety-related incidents increased by almost 20 percent, according to a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Refer to gazetashendeti.com/medical-errors-increase-following-the-spring-change-to-daylight-saving-time.
- Nursing Homes. For a listing by states of the worst homes in the U.S. as of April 2019 per CMS refer to www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Casey%20Toomey%20SFF%20Report%20June%202019.pdf.
- Who’s Got Your Six. A common phrase dating back to World War I fighter pilots, but co-opted in recent times to focus on service members looking out for each other’s safety and well-being, and to protect each other from harm.
- Covid-19 Vets. In a nationwide study of more than a quarter of a million veterans, VA researchers determined that Black and Hispanic veterans are twice as likely to test positive for the coronavirus as white veterans.
- Riverside National Cemetery. VA officials on 25 SEP broke ground on a memorial honoring Native Americans and others interred at Riverside National Cemetery.
- 500-ship Navy. The Pentagon’s upcoming recommendation for a future Navy is expected to call for a significant increase in the number of ships, with officials discussing a fleet as large as 530 hulls, according to documents obtained by Defense News.
- Air Force Tankers. The Air Force is drawing up plans for its next refueling tanker to have autonomous or semi-autonomous capabilities, thanks in part to efforts to fix the KC-46 Pegasus, according to the service’s acquisition czar.
- USMC Drill Instructors. MCRD San Diego may see its first female drill instructors training recruits as early as “this winter,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said 24 SEP.
- Military Suicides. Deaths have increased by as much as 20% this year compared to with same period in 2019, and some incidents of violent behavior have spiked as service members struggle under COVID-19, war-zone deployments, national disasters and civil unrest.
- China*Taiwan. China has threatened or entered into Taiwan’s airspace 46 times in the past nine days, the island’s defense ministry said, as Beijing ratchets up pressure on the island it considers part of its territory.
- Iraq. The United States has told the Iraqi government and its diplomatic partners that it’s planning a full withdrawal from its sprawling embassy in Baghdad unless Iraq reins in attacks on personnel linked to the American presence there — a move that Iraqi officials said caught them by surprise.
[Source: Various | September 30, 2020 ++]
Disfigured Vet Wants Social Media to Stop Using his Picture
Bobby Henline wants it to stop. A picture of the badly burned Army veteran was used in social media postings with a message saying: “Trump says he’s a loser. I say he’s a hero. What do you say?” “I’m here to tell you it’s not true,” Henline said in a video he posted demanding people stop using him for propaganda purposes. “You hear it on the news all the time about people lying. Fake news.” The use of his picture followed an article in The Atlantic magazine that quoted anonymous sources saying President Donald Trump called Marines killed in World War I “losers” and “suckers.” Trump has denied the claims. “I don’t know what Trump said, but I’m sure he didn’t call me a loser,” Henline says in his video. “I didn’t hear him call me a loser. So this has got to stop. Stop using my image.”
Henline joined the Army in 1987 when he was 17. He served in the Gulf War and left the service in 1992. After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, he reenlisted in the Army. While serving in Iraq in 2007, he was wounded by a massive blast from an improvised explosive device. He was the sole survivor of those riding in his Humvee. Henline suffered disfiguring burns to more than 40 percent of his body and had his left forearm amputated. H was put into a medically induced coma and transported to Brooke Army Medical Center at San Antonio, Texas. He awakened after two weeks, and underwent 6 months of treatment. Currently, Henline has undergone 48 reconstructive surgeries including multiple skin grafts and reconstructions.
While hospitalized Henline would often use humor as a means of dealing with his extraordinary circumstances. As his treatment was ending, his occupational therapist suggested that he attend an open mic at the Comedy Store. In August of 2009, Henline made his debut and from there he would do open mics 3 times a week. He would be contacted by a talent agency in L.A. which would lead him to a part in the Showtime documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor”. He would go on to perform at events and comedy clubs across the nation including such venues as Hollywood Improv and Laugh Factory.
Henline started traveling and speaking to a wide range of audiences, especially injured veterans and burn victims. He helped found the Bravo748 Military and Combat Speakers Bureau and travels around the world with them to do speaking engagements. Henline started the charity organization Forging Forward with the goal of helping military personnel and first-responders and their families deal with the injuries and traumas that can occur in that work. But using his name for propaganda purposes is not funny, Henline says. “It’s ridiculous.” [Source: Stars & Stripes | Carlos Bongioanni | September 12, 2020 ++]
Update 01: Reasons Not to Move When you do Retiree
Sunny skies and warm breezes sound great. But in reality, you might be better off retiring closer to home. Retirement is supposed to be a time when people move to Florida to sip drinks on the beach or settle down in Arizona to play endless rounds of golf. But in reality, a huge percentage of Americans are happy to remain right where they are. A 2018 AARP survey found that more than three-quarters of people age 50 or older prefer to stay in their current homes as they age. In fact, there are many good reasons for remaining in your hometown after retirement. Following are some of the best.
1. It’s cheaper to stay put
When you buy a home, you’ll typically pay between 2% and 5% of the purchase price in closing costs, according to Zillow. That means that if you buy a $150,000 home, you could shell out up to $7,500 for the privilege. And those costs don’t include the price of moving your belongings halfway across the country. Plus, unless you are paying cash, you likely will need a mortgage. Rates on such loans fell to historic lows during the Great Recession, but they have risen quite a bit since then — and may continue to do so. That means your next home loan could be more expensive than your current one.
2. You might pay less in taxes
Perhaps you are sick of the rainy skies of Seattle or the cold prairie winds of South Dakota and long for the sunny coastlines of Hawaii or California. If that’s your dream, by all means, make it a reality. Just remember that the price for following your bliss can be steep. In Washington and South Dakota, you pay no state income taxes, as we report in “How All 50 States Tax Your Retirement Income.” But in Hawaii, individual income tax rates soar as high as 11%. California’s top rate is worse, at 13.3%. The lesson: Know the tax and other financial implications before you make any move. It might pay off to stay firmly rooted at home.
3. Your current doctors know you well
Seeing the same physician for years can pay big dividends. A 2017 British study found that people ages 62 to 82 who remained with the same doctor longest experienced 12% fewer hospital admissions compared with those who remained with their doctor for a short period of time.
4. You’ll be closer to family and friends
As we age, opportunities to meet people and socialize can dwindle. Perhaps that’s because we are no longer working, or because health problems prevent us from getting out and about. Or maybe we just don’t have the energy to make a bunch of new friends. Remaining in your community gives you access to people who have known you for years, perhaps even a lifetime. It’s even better if you have family members nearby. Having supportive loved ones close at hand can be crucial as you age and must rely on help more than ever before.
5. You won’t have to face life’s sorrows alone
Few of us like to think about the reality, but life does not go on forever. As we age, mortality grows ever closer. If you suddenly lose a spouse after moving across the country, you might end up feeling isolated and depressed. This is especially true if such a sad turn of events occurs soon after you have relocated.
6. You’ll keep your network intact
Some people find that retirement does not live up to their expectations or feel that they quit working too early. Others discover they need to return to work when unforeseen circumstances leave them dipping into their nest eggs sooner than expected. If you stay close to home, it might be easier to find work. Perhaps your old employer will bring you back part-time or on a freelance basis. Or, perhaps you can tap into the network of people you have worked with to find opportunities.
7. There is no place like home sweet home
If you’ve lived in a place for a while — maybe an entire lifetime — chances are good that you like it. Perhaps you grouse about the Northern cold, but love to ski or ice skate. Or you love the rhythm of the seasons and can’t wait for another autumn to arrive. Or maybe you just have great memories — meeting your spouse, raising your children — that are indelibly tied to the place you call home. Life in an exciting new place has its appeal. But one of the joys of getting older is having the wisdom to appreciate what you have right here, right now.
[Source: MponeyTalksNews | Chris Kissell | September 19, 2020 ++]
Controversial U.S. Statues
Buyers Available for Those Removed for Racial Justice
In June, Andrey Filatov, a Russian billionaire, chess enthusiast and art collector, sent letters to the governments of New York City and Sitka, Alaska. Both locales had decided, amid renewed calls for racial justice, to remove controversial monuments: a 10-foot tall statue of Theodore Roosevelt astride a horse outside Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History, and a bronze of Alexander Baranov, a Russian colonialist, perched on a rock and lost in thought, greeting visitors to a Sitka civic center.
Filatov owns Art Russe, a London-based foundation that aims to develop a “greater understanding of Soviet and Russian cultural contributions” outside Russia. The collection has more than 250 pieces, according to Rena Lavery, Art Russe’s director. Though the foundation primarily focuses on Russian art, a BBC report in June on the removal of the Roosevelt and Baranov monuments stirred Filatov to action, and he resolved to save them. “If the monuments are going to be thrown out, chucked away, we’re happy to buy them and dismantle them and put them together back in Russia for future generations to enjoy and to appreciate,” Lavery told me over the phone in July. (Filatov, she said, had a very busy schedule and would not be available for comment.) “The idea is preserving those things for history. History has two sides of it always. Bad or good, it’s a piece of art.”
Cities across the country are reconsidering monuments of all stripes, from paeans to Confederate generals to triumphal depictions of colonialists. While there’s growing consensus that racist statues should be removed, there’s less unity over what should be done with them once their plinths are carted away. Some argue they should be put in storage, others that they belong in museums where they can be properly contextualized. Still others, like protesters in Baltimore who toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus and rolled it into the city’s Inner Harbor, simply want them destroyed. But is there yet another possibility: that blue-chip art appreciators will want them for their collections?
A lot stands in the way for that to happen, says Sarah Cucinelli, an adviser to wealthy art collectors. Statues often have complex ownership and are subject to convoluted laws prescribing what can be done with them. The cost for a hulking monument – like Richmond’s Robert E. Lee sculpture, which weighs 13 tons – to be disassembled, stored, shipped and reassembled would be astronomical. Monuments are also designed to be elevated on pedestals and viewed from below, with postures that assert dominance over a public space and make people feel small. “That is not going to be an enjoyable experience for a collector in a smaller environment,” Cucinelli says. And because there haven’t been known sales of these statues, collectors wouldn’t be able to tell what one is worth, so investing would be a gamble. She doesn’t know of any market for removed statues and doesn’t think one will emerge.
In Richmond, Va., the mayor’s office has received multiple unsolicited offers to buy the Confederate statues removed from the city, including from Donnie Greenwell, the owner of a mobile home remodeling company in Waverly, Ky. (Greenwell told me he has reached out to 15 Southern cities about purchasing monuments, and he hopes to create a park centered on them.) A spokesman for the city of Alexandria, Va. is not aware of any offers to buy a statue of a Confederate soldier that was recently removed by its owners, the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In Decatur, Ga., when the board of commissioners asked for bids to steward a 30-foot Confederate obelisk in the town square, no one offered to take it.
Many of the Confederate monuments across the South were actually mass-produced in New England; the mayor of a town in the former Confederacy could open a catalogue for the Bridgeport, Conn.-based Monumental Bronze Co. and order a zinc statue for $450. “They were never originally put up with any artistic value in mind,” says Tiffany Wade Momon, a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and founder of the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive. Instead, they were relatively cheap tools of propaganda, erected to intimidate and advance the Lost Cause, which promoted the false narrative that the Confederacy was a noble venture and not built on its support for slavery. As Momon puts it: “They were just rooted in anti-Blackness.”
The monument to Roosevelt outside the Natural History Museum was commissioned in 1925 to pay tribute to the former president as a “devoted naturalist,” according to the museum, and created by American sculptor James Earle Fraser. The racial hierarchy it depicts – Roosevelt on a horse as a conquering hero, sitting high above the seminude Black and Native American people he has subjugated – is part of “a long history of representation that denigrates brown and Black bodies,” says RenÃ©e Ater, a public art historian and visiting professor of Africana studies at Brown University. The Baranov statue, in Sitka, Alaska, was erected in 1989 to commemorate the town’s history as a Russian settlement. Baranov, a colonialist and early 19th-century governor of Russian Alaska, founded Sitka in 1804 – on land long inhabited by Alaska Natives, many of whom he killed or enslaved.
Lavery says that Baranov is an important figure in Russian history, while Roosevelt, she points out, earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his role in negotiations to end the Russo-Japanese War, which secured favorable terms for Russia. Filatov, according to Lavery, sought to buy the monuments with the aim of “preserving cultural heritage” – but Ater describes that argument as “specious.” “Whose cultural heritage are they talking about?” she asks. “Are they preserving a cultural heritage that is about white supremacy? Or about colonialism? Or about the conquering of people?”
Lavery wouldn’t comment on the point that the monuments Filatov offered to buy depict racist and colonialist imagery, calling them “issues that are beyond our competence.” That history and meaning, however, are deeply tied to the monuments’ aesthetic form, Ater says. (Shortly after Filatov made his offer, Sitka announced the Baranov statue would be moved to a local museum; New York City declined his request to buy the Roosevelt statue.) Karen Lemmey, the sculpture curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, says that every monument is erected for a purpose: to sum up a system of beliefs, to express power, to assert identity. “If it was something that was erected with the express purpose of threatening people or intimidating people,” Lemmey says, “wherein lies the beauty?” [Source: The Washington Post | Rebecca Nelson | September 22, 2020 ++]
Russian Fighter Jets Mercenaries Engaging in Combat Activities
Russian fighter jets mercenaries are flying in Libya are engaging in ground strikes and combat activities, U.S. Africa Command says. According to Navy Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, AFRICOM’s director of intelligence, there are at least 14 Russian fighter aircraft that are based out of Al Jufra and Al Khadim airfields in Libya. “They are, we assess, being operated by Wagner Group,” Berg told reporters 11 SEP. “These fighters are engaging in combat activities. We have seen them conduct ground strikes and conduct combat activities in country. So they are not there for training the Libyan National Army, they’re not there to simply support the LNA. They are there to conduct combat activities on behalf of their own national interests. We also know they’re not that good,” Berg said, citing that one Mig-29 aircraft crashed in June followed by another on 7 SEP.
The Wagner Group — a private military company that U.S. officials have warned has close ties to the Kremlin and is headed by a former Russian intelligence officer — supports the Libyan National Army that’s going up against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord. In May, AFRICOM announced Russia had deployed MiG-29 and Su-24 aircraft to Al Jufra Airfield in Libya and that the aircraft were expected to support Wagner Group mercenaries. The command said that the aircraft touched down in Syria and were repainted to obscure their Russian ties before ultimately landing in Libya. “Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner,” AFRICOM commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said in May.
Russia rejected AFRICOM’s claims and former Russian Air Force chief and current member of parliament Viktor Bondarev described the assertion as “crazy” in a statement in May. He also said “if there are any airplanes in Libya, they are Soviet, not Russian.” But AFRICOM deputy director for intelligence Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield said the aircraft were not ones already in Libya’s inventory and were recently flown to Libya. “So we are confident that these aircraft were not there, and were not older aircraft that had been maintained,” Hadfield told reporters in May. “Russia is executing the same playbook as it successfully employed in Crimea, Ukraine and to a lesser extent in Syria,” Hadfield said. “Russia has proved its willingness to violate the sovereignty of those nations, and appears willing to do the same in Africa.”
More recently, AFRICOM asserted in July that the Wagner Group planted landmines and improvised explosive devices from the outskirts of Tripoli to Sirte starting in mid-June. AFRICOM claimed it believes the weapons originated from the Wagner Group. Approximately 3,000 Wagner Group mercenaries are in Libya and the group has recruited approximately 2,000 Syrian mercenaries to operate in support of the LNA, Berg said Friday. Conversely, Turkey has dispatched roughly 5,000 Syrian mercenaries to challenge the LNA, according to a recent Department of Defense Inspector General report.
The U.S. kept a small number of troops in Libya starting in 2011 after the removal of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to back local forces countering Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked militants there. But in April 2019, U.S. troops were removed from Libya due to heightened unrest when the LNA led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter launched an offensive against the GNA in Tripoli. Hifter was a former CIA asset who was exiled during Gadhafi’s leadership. Before returning to Libya in 2011, he obtained U.S. citizenship while he lived in Virginia in the 1990s. However, his offensive was quashed in June and he retreated from Tripoli after Turkish-backed forces made progress fighting the LNA. AFRICOM told Military Times in May that U.S. troops have not returned to Libya since they exited in 2019. Approximately 6,000 Department of Defense personnel are on the African continent. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Diana Stancy Correll | September 12, 2020 ++]
China’s Offensive Capability
Update 08: Americans Do Not Understand Severity of the Military Threat
Americans do not understand the severity of the military threats posed by China, particularly its ability to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear weapon, a top U.S. commander said 14 SEP. “I get apprehensive that we are not fully conscious as a nation of the threats that we face. China now has the capability … to directly threaten our homeland from a ballistic missile submarine. That’s a pretty watershed moment,” said Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which has a mission to protect the country by deterring such attacks and, if that fails, prepare to respond.
Richard’s comments follow the release earlier this month of the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military power, which states the country now has the largest navy in the world and is planning to grow its nuclear weapons arsenal. The estimated number of nuclear warheads that China has is “in the low 200s,” according to the report. “Over the next decade, China will expand and diversify its nuclear forces, likely at least doubling its nuclear warhead stockpile,” according to the 200-page report. Despite China’s increased military ability to strike the U.S., Richard said the American people do not grasp the threat against them like they did during the Cold War. “So we knew there was a threat to us that might require us to respond strategically. We don’t even think about that anymore. We take strategic deterrence for granted in a lot of cases,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “Not acknowledging the fact that we have never had a nuclear attack on the nation and haven’t had a great-power war in 70 years was not just some accidental fate in history … It was a lot of hard work by a lot of people to maintain systems ready to go, so that we deterred that from happening.”
The Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy also shifted the U.S. military’s focus from counterterrorism operations to “great-power competition” with China as well as Russia. The economic policies of China and its militarization of the South China Sea and Russia’s efforts to undermine NATO and its nuclear arsenal are major concerns for the U.S. military, according to the National Defense Strategy. The Pentagon report also states that China’s leaders want to develop their military to be “world-class” by 2049, which the Pentagon interprets to mean to be on par or better than other world powers such as the U.S.
Richard added Monday that China’s plan to increase its nuclear capabilities “is increasingly inconsistent with a stated No First Use policy.” “It’s not my place to judge whether they intend to honor that or not. What I can tell you is that they certainly have the capabilities to execute any number of deterrent or employment strategies that are seemingly inconsistent with a No First Use policy,” he said. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Caitlin M. Kenney | September 14, 2020 ++]
Military Theme Park
Lets You Drive Tanks, Crush Cars and Shoot Machine Guns
Whether in the military or not, most people don’t drive tanks. But for nearly a decade, Drive A Tank has opened its doors to civilians wanting to live out their tank fantasies in Kasota, MN,. “We’re trying to get normal people — civilians who wouldn’t normally have access to military equipment — a little bit of hands-on knowledge,” said Drive A Tank’s owner Tony Borglum in the video at youtu.be/S78V0AB6e1A. The video shows what a day is like for people who visit Drive A Tank. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can drive a tank and shoot a machine gun under one roof that’s not owned or operated by the government, according to MarKessa Baedke-Peterson. With packages ranging from $449 to $3,699, this military theme park will have you behind the wheel of a 15-ton armored vehicle through a course of woods and mud. The course ends at the car crushing area where visitors get to destroy perfectly intact Priuses (and other vehicles) by running them over. But that’s not all. After the tank course, attendees get to shoot anti-material rifles like the Barrett 50 Cal. and belt fed machine guns like the M1919 Browning. “Now that’s one badass motherf–ker,” Baedke said. For more info refer to www.driveatank.com. [Source: We are the Mighty | Orvelin Valle | September 14, 2020 ++]
U.S. Embassy Manila
Limited Resumption of Passport & CRBA Services
Effective October 5, 2020, we will begin offering limited non-emergency Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and passport services at the U.S. Embassy in Manila and limited passport services at the U.S. Consular Agency in Cebu, by appointment only. All notary services, including for an “Affidavit in Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage,” remain suspended. Monitor our website for more information on the resumption of services for U.S. citizens in the Philippines.
We continue to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Philippines, as we have throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In an emergency involving a U.S. citizen in the Philippines, please contact us by email at [email protected], or contact us by telephone at +63 (02) 5301-2000.
To comply with social distancing requirements and help ensure your safety, we are working with limited staff and will strictly control the number of people in our waiting room at any one time. Please remember to wear a mask and face shield for your appointment at the Embassy or Consular Agency and to only bring those individuals required for your consular service to your appointment. For more information on entry requirements for our facilities, click here. If you are unable to travel because of COVID-19-related restrictions put in place by your local government unit, please do not book an appointment at this time.
For CRBA appointments, please review our checklist to be sure you are prepared for your interview. Generally, only biological children of U.S. citizens may be eligible for a CRBA, and the U.S. citizen parent must demonstrate that they were physically present in the United States before the child’s birth to transmit citizenship to the child. More information on transmission of citizenship is available on our website.
Adoption of a child by a U.S. citizen does not confer U.S. citizenship on the child. However, adopted children may be eligible for citizenship through naturalization, pursuant to a lawful admission into the United States as a permanent resident. See our adoption information page or the Department of State’s Child Citizenship Act of 2000 page for more information.
You may be eligible to renew your passport by mail. See our website for more information on passport eligibility requirements and the mail-in renewal process. We encourage all eligible U.S. citizens to submit their passport renewal applications by mail, to help control the number of people in our waiting rooms during the ongoing pandemic.
For information about the current COVID-19 situation in the Philippines, please see our website.
For further information
- See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Advisories, Alerts, and the Philippines Country Specific Information.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Contact the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, located at 1201 Roxas Boulevard, at +(63) (2) 5301-2000, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. After-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is +(63) (2) 5301-2000.
- Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
- Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
[Source: Message for U.S. Citizens | U.S. Embassy Manila | September 28, 2020 ++]
Cars That Never Made It
Buick XP-300, Ford Mustere, and Cadillac Cyclone
They were pure fantasy on wheels, machines designed to make the heart race and the mind ask, “What if?” These 1950s concept cars were automotive art built to attract public attention, test wild engineering ideas and give motorist a fleeting glimpse down the highway of tomorrow.
1951 BUICK XP-300 1955 FORD MYSTERE 1959 CADILLAC CYCLONE
Have You Heard or Seen?
A True West Point Story | Latest Satirical Cartoons
A true story from a West Point classmate
In the summer of 1962 five of us West Point cadets were touring Europe. We had just finished up some Army training and were on the loose!
We visited Munich, Germany, a big tourist hotspot. We went to the Hofbrauhaus, Munich’s famous and big night club. About 2:00am, we were all about half inebriated, drinking big steins of German beer. Someone had to pee, so we all went to the men’s room. The men’s room was small, but we all crammed in. One of us, a 6ft 4 in basketball player, needed to use the toilet. But you first had to put a ten-pfennig coin (10 cents) in a slot in the door in order to use the toilet.
Hey, we were poor college students on very tight budgets. No way could we afford such extravagances. So, with a chuckle, our varsity basketball player jumped over the stall, and proceeded with his business.
A minute later, the bathroom door flew open, and a small, gray haired woman stormed in, shouting in German. She put a key in the stall door, jerked it open, grabbed him by the arm, and started pulling him off the toilet. Our frien, with his pants down around his ankles, struggled back. It was a hilarious scene. The rest of us were laughing so hard, we could barely stand.
As we later found out, this old lady had been stationed behind a peephole in the wall, watching to make sure that no-one cheated. We had cheated.
Suddenly the dynamics changed. The main door flew open again, and a burly German policeman, big baton in hand, also burst in. Things rapidly got serious. I could just see the headlines in the newspapers. The army had no sense of humor about such matters. We were suddenly sober.
Now at West Point we had been required to study a foreign language. I was the only one in our beleaguered group who had studied German. My speaking ability was limited, at best. But I stepped forward to deal with the situation. Later, my classmates swore that the German beer had improved my German speaking ability tremendously.
After a lengthy and emotional scene, a solution was agreed upon. I gave the lady a ten pfennig coin, our buddy went back to the toilet stall, the policeman shook our hands and left. The German lady glared at us with a victorious smile and stomped off, apparently going back to her peephole.
And I ended up with a big boost to my reputation among my classmates, as an international negotiator who could leap tall buildings with a single bound.
Latest Satanical Cartoons
Thought of the Week
“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his action.” – Ronald Reagan
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