RAO Bulletin 15 December 2020

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Bulletin 201215 (HTML Edition)
Vet State Benefits – VT 2020
Military History Anniversaries 1216 thru 123120
Mil Hist – WWII Operation Uranus

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Bulletin 201215 (PDF Edition)
Vet State Benefits – VT 2020
Military History Anniversaries 1216 thru 123120
Mil Hist – WWII Operation Uranus

THIS RETIREE ACTIVITIES OFFICE BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES

Pg Article Subject

. * DOD * .
== NDAA 2021 [10] —- (White House Objections to Proposed Cuts)
== NDAA 2021 [11] —- (President Donald Trump’s Veto Threat Rejected)
== NDAA 2021 [12] —- (What the Finalized Bill Contains)
== DoD Budgets —- (JCS Calls for Reality Check on Future One)
== Navy 1st Fleet —- (Being Resurrected to Cover Indo-Pacific Region)
== Navy 2nd Fleet [01] —- (Focus to Be On Russian Threat)
== Navy Frigate Program —- (Congress Pushes the US Navy to Get FFG(X) Right)
== USAF Mothball Effort —- (What Was Wanted in 2021 & What They Got)
== Military Rape [01] —- (Supreme Court Decides Cases Have No Statute of Limitations)
== POW/MIA Recoveries & Burials —- (Reported 01 thru 15 DEC 2020 | Six)

. * VA * .
== VA Care Abroad [01] —- (Vets Left to Navigate Pandemic Problems without VA Help)
== VA Covid-19 Care [03] —- (Priority for Receiving Vaccines)
== VA Autism Care —- (New Coverage under ChampVA)
== VA Lawsuit ~ Final Rule —- (New Rules Restricting Caregiver Benefits)
== VA Blue Button Program [03] —- (EHR Access Means Still Effective After 10 yrs)
== ALS [15] —- (Eye Gaze Controlled Wheelchair Drive System)
== VA Solid Start [02] —- (Transition to Civilian Life Assistance)
== Vet Education [03] —- (VA Completes Colmery Act Changes)
== VA Secretary [92] —- (IG Charges for Wilkie Prosecution Never Filed)
== VA Secretary [93] —- (President-elect Biden’s Choice Gets Mixed Response)
== VA Telehealth Program [21] —- (AT&T Added to VA Video Connect)
== VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse —- (Reported 01 thru 1 DEC 2020)

. * VETS * .
== Vet Unemployment [27] —- (November Increase to 6.3%)
== Operation September Freedom —- (Free Vintage Flight for 1,000 WWII Vets)
== WW2 Chinese American Vets —- (20,000 Honored By Congress)
== WWI Vet 14 —- (Samuel Woodfill | Sgt. York’s Rival)
== Iraq War Vet 04 —- (Joshua Wheeler | Operation Inherent Resolve Casualty)
== WWII Vet 241 —- (Robert Feller | Renowned Cleveland Indians Pitcher
== Military Retirees & Veterans Events Schedule —- (As of 15 DEC 2020)
== Vet Hiring Fairs —- (Scheduled as of 16 DEC 2020)
== State Veteran Benefits —- (Vermont 2020)

. * VET LEGISLATION * .
== VA Medical Marijuana [71] —- (H.R.3884 | MORE Act of 2020)
== VA Mental Health Care [42] —- (S.2864/H.R.5324 | Veterans Network of Support Act of 2019)
== Women Vet Support —- (S.514/H.R.3224 | Deborah Sampson Act)

. * MILITARY* .
== USS Bonhomme Richard [03] —- (Will Not Return to Sea – Restoration Deemed too Expensive)
== M-240 Machine Gun —- (New Sound Suppressor Gets Rave Reviews)
== USMC Drug Problem —- (Zero Tolerance is the Marine Corps’ Stance)
== USMC Retention [02] —- (Tank Marines Get the Chance to Leave the Corps Early)
== Air Force Retention [03] —- (Spiked Amid COVID | Now, Retention Bonuses Might Be Cut)
== Army Missing Soldier Policy —- (Created to Prevent Disappearances Ending in Tragedy)
== National Guard Employment Rights —- (Uncovered State Government Jobs)
== USMC Infantry Training —- (Not Long Enough ― Or Good Enough ― For Future Fight)
== USMC ASW EABO —- (How Marines Could fight Subs in the Future)
== Military Base Names [01] —- (Congress’ Detailed Plan to Get Rid of Confederate Ones)
== Navy Terminology, Jargon & Slang —- (‘Qual Card thru ‘Ramrod’)

. * MILITARY HISTORY * .
== WWII Operation Uranus —- (How the Soviets Trapped the German 6th Army in Stalingrad)
== Great Emu War —- (Emu Victory over Australian Military)
== Berga am Elster —- (WWII POWs Recall Camp Berga)
== WWI Gas Mask —- (Improvisation)
== Every Picture Tells A Story —- (Preventing Salt Water Corrosion)
== Military History Anniversaries —- (16 thru 31 DEC)
== WWII Bomber Nose Art [65] —- (Moonhappy)
== Medal of Honor Awardees —- (Allan Ohata | WWII)

. * HEALTH CARE * .
== Covid-19 Treatment [06] —- (Baricitinib plus Remdesivir Show Promise)
== Coronavirus Vaccines [19] —- (Gamble Pays Off | How They Made It to the Finish Line)
== Sickle Cell Trait —- (Army Begins Testing Recruits)
== Constipation —- (Tips to Relieve It Naturally)
== Sinusitis [04] —- (Congestion Relief)
== Prescription Drug Disposal [08] —- (Do It the Safest Way)
== TRICARE Caregiver —- (How to Become One)
== TRICARE Flu Shots [05] —-Seasonal Flu Vaccine FAQ
== Alcohol Use [02] —- (Unhealthiest Choices)

. * FINANCES * .
== SBP DIC Offset [65] —- (Q&A for Impacted Beneficiaries)
== VA Loans [02] —- (Covid-19 Hardship Proposal would Allow Mortgage Payments by VA)
== VA Debt [11] —- (Vet Billing to Restart in JAN)
== DFAS Pay Schedule —- (Retiree & Annuitant 2021)
== Attorney Earnings —- (States with Highest & Lowest)
== Adoption Scams [02] —- (Online Puppy Scams Rising Sharply in 2020)
== COVID-19 Scams [04] —- (Watch for Cons as the COVID Vaccine Rolls Out)
== Zoom Invite Scam —- (Don’t Click on Suspicious Zoom Meeting Invites)
== State Tax Burden for Kentucky Retired Vets —- (As of DEC 2020)

. * GENERAL INTEREST * .
== Notes of Interest —- (December 01 thru 15, 2020)
== Map Comparisons —- (Australia’s Size vs. U.S.)
== Surviving Spouses [02] —- (New Organization Looking for Members)
== China’s Military Expansion —- (Will Test the Biden Administration)
== Iran Tensions [13] —- (US Troop Pullouts Raise Fears of Iranian Attacks)
== Car Ownership [01] —- (2020’s Six Most Reliable Automakers)
== Trump Border Wall [17] —- (Federal Court Rules Lower Court Wrong in Baring Funds)
== Life Hacks —- (A Few Things to Make Your Life Easier)
== Home Rodent Control —- (Humane Tips to Keep Them from Moving In)
== News of The Weird —- (December 1-15, 2020)
== Have You Heard or Seen? —- (Military Humor (13) | Dad Jokes (1) | Latest Satirical Cartoons)

NOTE

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

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

3. Recipients of the Bulletin are authorized and encouraged to forward the Bulletin to other vets or veteran organizations.

. * ATTACHMENTS * .

Attachment – Vermont State Veteran Benefits

Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 16 thru 31 DEC (Updated)

Attachment – WWII Operation Uranus

* DoD *

NDAA 2021

Update 10: White House Objections to Proposed Cuts

The outgoing Trump administration opposes several measures in the Senate version of the fiscal year 2021 defense spending bill, including proposed cuts to experimental weapons programs, according to a new letter from the White House Office of Management and Budget. In the letter, which was sent 30 NOV to the Senate Appropriations Committee:

  1. The administration registers a broad objection to a proposed $2.1 billion in cuts to the Defense Department’s research, development, test and evaluation account. It notes several provisions to which it “strongly objects,” including one that would rescind $150 million in FY-20 funds from the Pentagon’s secretive Strategic Capabilities Office. “This funding is critical to continue the development, demonstration, and transition of novel capabilities to counter threats and respond to the needs of combatant commands,” the letter states.
  2. The administration strongly objects to a proposed $389 million cut to the Conventional Prompt Strike program and a $45 million reduction to the hypersonic prototyping program. The cuts, according to OMB, would delay the development and fielding of sea-, land-, and air-based offensive hypersonic weapons “by a minimum of one year.” “In addition to delaying the deployment of Navy, Army, and Air Force hypersonic capabilities, these reductions would destabilize the design process for the hypersonic weapon system, negatively impact efforts to strengthen the hypersonic industrial base, and increase costs due to contract termination of existing efforts,” the letter states. “This would delay vital warfighting capability and increase United States warfighting asymmetry for long-range hypersonic weapons with near-peer adversaries as a result of their rapid hypersonic development.”
  3. The administration strongly objects to a proposed $20 million reduction from the Rapid Prototyping program as it would “significantly delay” SCIFiRE, the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment the United States recently launched with Australia. “SCIFiRE provides the maturation vehicle for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept with a partner nation’s co-investment,” according to OMB. “This reduction would create at least a two-year delay to this hypersonics program.”
  4. The administration opposes the bill’s proposal to cut $50 million in procurement and $136 million in research, development, test and evaluation from the Standard Missile-6 program. The proposed reductions, according to OMB, would cause a “breach” in the current multiyear procurement contract with Raytheon Technologies, “which would lead to a renegotiation and probable loss of savings.” The bill would also add “significant and unacceptable schedule risk by delaying the delivery of the SM-6 Block IB capability by one year and, in the process, would also delay the Navy’s ability to start addressing the DOD capability gap for long-range, hypersonic offensive strike weapons needed for near-peer adversaries,” according to OMB.
  5. The administration strongly objects to $123 million in proposed cuts to the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense programs. “The reductions in the bill would delay critical ground and flight tests required to implement the administration’s priority of achieving Layered Homeland Defense,” the letter states.
  6. The administration strongly objects to a proposed $50 million cut in precision strike missiles. “The reduction would eliminate the program’s ability to procure early operational capability missiles in FY 2021 and delay fielding to at least FY 2024, which does not meet the Army’s requirement date to accelerate acquisition of enhanced long-range precision fires needed to counter emerging threats from near-peer adversaries by FY 2023,” the letter states.
  7. OMB says it opposes cuts to the Navy’s Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle program. The Navy is seeking $438 million for the procurement of two LUSV prototypes in FY-21, but Senate appropriators do not support the request.
  8. The administration strongly objects to a proposed $24 million cut to National Background Investigation Services, saying it would cause a “12-month delay in the development and delivery of the new NBIS system and require continued sustainment of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) legacy information technology systems, at a cost of $176 million annually to taxpayers.” Also, “a delay in unclassified Continuous Evaluation and Continuous Vetting support to customer agencies would jeopardize the Federal Government’s ability to deliver a timely Trusted Workforce product,” the letter states. “Further, this delay would also hamper [the Office of Personnel Management’s] ability to focus on modernization of the agency’s other legacy systems.”

Meanwhile, the federal government is scheduled to shut down 11 DEC if Congress cannot pass an FY-21 appropriations package. Staffers said House and Senate lawmakers are deep in negotiations on an omnibus FY-21 spending bill. [Source: Inside Defense | Tony Bertuca | December 1, 2020 ++]

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NDAA 2021

Update 11: President Donald Trump’s Veto Threat Rejected

A provision to rename 10 Army bases that honor Confederate generals has made it into the final 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, according to a Democratic aide, rejecting a veto threat from President Donald Trump. The final NDAA includes a proposal by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that would rename military bases and assets honoring Confederates within three years. It was passed by the Republican-led Armed Services committee. Each chamber of Congress passed its NDAA this summer, setting funding and policy priorities for the military. Now Capitol Hill is negotiating a final bill to send to the president to be signed, which could be one of the last major acts of Trump’s presidency.

Multiple Democratic aides said Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made moves to block the proposal from getting into the final NDAA in order to keep the Confederate names intact. Inhofe’s office did not respond to a request for comment. To the ire of Trump, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have moved to use the 2021 NDAA as a vehicle to rename bases and banish Confederate flags after the 25 MAY killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and subsequent nationwide protests over police brutality. Congress has turned more attention to scrubbing Confederate references on military bases to reconcile with racial injustice — something the services have the power to do on their own.

The 10 Army posts named in honor of Confederate generals are Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia; Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas. The installations were named primarily during the south’s Jim Crow era in the 1910s and 1940s. The issue of renaming Army bases hit a boiling point during the summer. It picked up momentum when senior military leaders such as then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy backed the idea. The Senate and House then passed versions of the NDAA, which sets funding and policy priorities for the Pentagon each year, with a provision to rename the bases.

It’s unclear why Republicans stopped fighting the renaming measure, but Trump made a last-minute threat against the must-pass $740 billion military funding measure unless it repeals Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, calling it a “liability shielding gift” to “big tech.” Section 230 provides legal protection for technology companies over content from users and third parties. Bloomberg Government reported that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are going to bring the NDAA to a vote in both chambers without any action on Section 230, rebuking the president’s threat. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Steve Beynon | December 2, 2020 ++]

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NDAA 2021

Update 12: What the Finalized Bill Contains

Months of negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers culminated with Congress unveiling its conference report of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on 3 DEC. The $731.6 billion defense bill authorizes everything from pay and benefits for servicemembers and families to the size of the force. MOAA – working with The Military Coalition, a consortium of military and veterans service organizations representing a combined 5.5 million-plus membership – asked Congress for many important provisions earlier this year to help our community. Our efforts secured language that will benefit servicemembers and their families, to include a 3% military pay raise, a halt to proposed military medical cuts and military treatment facility (MTF) reorganization, and the addition of three conditions to the list of ailments presumed connected to Agent Orange exposure.

Details on these and other issues – just a small part of the 4,500-page legislation, which MOAA is continuing to analyze – are below. “The 116th Congress has done incredible work in this year’s NDAA,” said MOAA Vice President of Government Relations Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret). “The bill’s support for servicemembers, their families, veterans, and survivors reflect their commitment to help those defending our nation. We urge members of Congress to move quickly and pass this bipartisan bill just like they have for the past 59 years.”

Pay Raises

Congress approved a 3% military pay raise, effective Jan. 1, 2021. The raise matches the administration’s request and nearly matches the FY 2020 raise of 3.1%, which was the largest pay increase for servicemembers in 10 years. A 3% increase equates to an annual raise of nearly $2,400 for an O-3 with 10 years of service. In addition to a general pay increase, Congress increased Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay from $250 to $275 month for duty in a foreign area designated as an imminent danger area or high-risk duties.

Medical Billet Cuts and MTF Restructuring

MOAA’s extensive efforts to halt military medical downsizing, including our Virtual Storming the Hill and Summer Storm, paid off with two provisions addressing these concerns. One provision (Section 717) addresses medical billet cuts by prohibiting DoD and the services from reducing medical end strength authorizations for 180 days following enactment of the bill. It also requires DoD to conduct a review of medical manpower requirements that specifically considers the homeland defense mission and DoD’s role in a pandemic influenza response, in addition to all other national defense strategy scenarios.

The other provision (Section 718) increases requirements for implementation plans for each MTF slated for restructure or realignment. It also requires DoD to certify to the congressional defense committees that a covered beneficiary affected by restructure or realignment of a MTF would have access to health care services through the purchased care component of the TRICARE program. This provision prohibits MTF restructuring from moving forward for 180 days following the date Congress receives the implementation plans and notice of certification or the date of enactment of the FY 2021 NDAA, whichever comes later.

TRICARE

Congress included a provision to expand benefits available under the TRICARE Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) program, which covers services for a subset of military special needs families with individuals who are diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, a serious physical disability, or an extraordinary physical or psychological condition. The provision includes an increase in respite hours from 16 to 32 hours per month, and also requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on caregiving assistance available under other programs, including Medicaid home- and community-based services. The bill includes no new TRICARE fees or copay increases. However, a new TRICARE Select enrollment fee for Group A retirees will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021 – a change that became law with the FY 2017 NDAA.

Toxic Exposures

Vietnam veterans have a reason to celebrate as three new presumptives were added to the list of illnesses linked to Agent Orange exposure. The change means 34,000 veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism will receive the care and benefits they deserve. Read more about MOAA’s fight to help this provision pass. The bill also requires that Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record (ILER), a collaboration between DoD and the VA to link exposures testing to servicemembers by location and date of service, must be expanded to allow veterans to see their personal records. While ILER’s data is limited, this change marks a step in the right direction.

Guard and Reserve

The past year was emblematic of the contributions made by members of the National Guard and Reserve to our nation, as they responded to the pandemic, natural disasters, and civil unrest. A House provision to expand hazardous duty incentive pay parity for the Guard and Reserve was adopted in the final bill. Reserve component personnel who maintain a proficiency will receive monthly pay like their active-duty counterparts receive when fulfilling required proficiencies like parachute duty, aircrew duty, and many others. The Pentagon also has to assure retirement eligibility is not cut for National Guard members and reservists because is drill weekends and annual training was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NDAA does not create a Space Force Reserve component, but directs the Pentagon to provide Congress with recommendations and a plan to integrate reserve elements.

Commissaries and Exchanges

The Senate adopted House language that seeks an update the business case analysis (BCA) before moving forward with efforts to merge the back-office operations of the commissary and exchange systems. A GAO report found several flaws in the cost and saving estimates made in the initial BCA. Despite these concerns, DoD planned to move forward with the merger. Now, DoD will need to produce a new BCA and get it approved by Congress before moving toward consolidation.

DoD Civilian Jobs and the ‘180-Day Rule’

The bill would allow for direct hire of certain retired military members (GS-13 and below) in logistics positions that are facing manpower shortages, letting these qualified candidates bypass a rule requiring a 180-day waiting period. And while a MOAA-supported Senate provision that would’ve expanded direct hire authority for positions that perform support functions for depot-level maintenance and repair did not make the final bill, the conferees noted DoD already possesses extensive direct hire authority for a variety of civilian personnel positions, to include any job involved with DoD maintenance activities and major range and test facilities bases.

Spouse and Family Issues

Military families can expect to see improvements to the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) to ensure continuity of services and standardization across the services. Continuity of education for families with special needs will get a closer look as well by the GAO. MOAA was one of five military family advocates to testify on Capitol Hill to secure improvements carried forward in this legislation.

Military spouse employment issues were also addressed in this year’s defense bill. The My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) program will be expanded to include continuing education and national testing. Clarifications for the licensure reimbursement program are made in the bill to ensure military spouses moving from overseas to stateside can take advantage of the program.

Child care improvements are expected to roll out with the passage of the bill, including housing prioritization for Family Child Care (FCC) providers, expansion of 24-hour child care, family discounts at child development centers, a pilot program to provide financial assistance to families utilizing FCC child care, and several reports addressing affordability and availability concerns. DoD also must conduct a feasibility study to implement dependent care flexible spending accounts.

Military Housing

Additional improvements to military housing were included in the NDAA, including repeal of DoD’s authority to lease out substandard housing, a requirement for the department to implement recommendations outlined in the DoD Inspector General’s report on housing, and language ensuring performance metrics and remediation guidance for housing issues are made public. The bill also will expand the Uniform Code of Basic Standards for housing along with inspection requirements to government-owned military family housing. An audit also will be conducted to track medical conditions of residents in privatized military housing. Finally, DoD now will be expected to take certain military family readiness issues into consideration when making future basing decisions.

Cheryl Lankford Memorial Expansion Assistance

The bill improves assistance for Gold Star families by increasing support offered by Casualty Assistance Officers (CAO). The updates ensure that if a Gold Star spouse dies, their dependents will receive the support of a CAO to advocate for the family, answer questions, log complaints, and assist with the benefits process.

Funding to counter Chinese influence

The bill includes $2.2 billion for the Pentagon to begin a Pacific Deterrence Initiative in an effort to check growing Chinese military power in the Indo-Pacific region. The new program is modeled after the European Deterrence Initiative that the Defense Department launched in response to Russian aggression in 2014, including its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The program will provide funding to jumpstart the initiative this fiscal year. Lawmakers have said they envision an increase in U.S. troops in the region, more training with allies in the Western Pacific and new stockpiles of weapons as part of the effort.

Space Force

The House version of the NDAA directed the Space Force use Navy ranks. Yet the Senate bill contained no such provision. The compromise bill cut the House language and directs the Air Force to make a recommended rank structure for officers and enlisted personnel at least 15 days prior to implementation.

Drawdown from Germany & Afganistan

The bill also seeks to squash Trump’s plan to move some 12,000 troops out of Germany. The plan calls for some to move elsewhere in Europe and others to the United States. The bill halts the Pentagon from cutting troop numbers below 34,500 in Germany until 120 days after it sends an analysis to Congress on the impacts of a reduction. The NDAA seeks not to fund a reduction of troops in Afghanistan until the Pentagon assesses the impacts a drawdown would have on expanding terrorist safe havens and counterterrorism efforts.

ACFT on an indefinite hold

The bill halts the implementation of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) until a study is complete to assess the test’s impact on recruitment and retention. The study, which has to be conducted by an entity independent of the Pentagon, also has to investigate whether troops in different environments where outdoor activity is hindered are at a disadvantage. The ACFT replaces the decades-old fitness test with more events aimed to gauge a soldier’s physical fitness for combat. This includes CrossFit-style exercise events, hand release pushups, and leg tucks. The test retains the timed two-mile run.

-o-o-O-o-o-

What’s Next. The conference report had to pass both the House and Senate before it is sent to President Donald Trump’s desk for signature. The House passed it by a Veto-Proof Margin of 335 to 78 as did the Senate by a vote 84 to 13. The president is saying he will veto the measure if the final bill does not include the elimination of legal protections offered to social media platforms. Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-WV) and Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) of the House Armed Services Committee released a joint statement on the NDAA and its importance 3 DEC, saying the legislation has been approved over the decades “because Members of Congress and Presidents of both parties have set aside their own policy objectives and partisan preferences and put the needs of our military personnel and America’s security first. The time has come to do that again.” If the president vetoes the bill, Congress may be able to override it with two-thirds majority in each chamber. [Source: The MOAA Newsletter + Stars & Stripes | December 3 & 4, 2020 ++]

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DoD Budgets

JCS Calls for Reality Check on Future Ones

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Pentagon planners need a “reality check” about future defense budgets and must accept that military dollars may be drying up, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said 2 DEC. “I suspect that, at best, the Pentagon’s budgets will start flattening out. There’s a reasonable prospect that they could actually decline significantly, depending on what happens” with the broader economy, Gen. Mark Milley said at an event hosted by the Brookings Institution.

“In an ideal world, I believe that we would need 3 percent to 5 percent sustained level of real growth in order to continue the modernization programs and readiness programs, and so on, that we have,” Milley added. “But that’s also not necessarily going to happen, and I don’t anticipate that it will happen. So we have to — we the uniforms, we here at the Pentagon, civilian and military alike — we’ve got to do a quick reality check on the national budget and what is likely to happen in the not too distant future.” His comments are not likely a surprise to defense watchers, as there was a growing consensus for most of this year that even if President Donald Trump was reelected, defense spending was likely to be flat. But Milley’s prediction is a concrete acknowledgement that as the department works on its fiscal 2022 budget request, it must look for ways to save money.

It’s unclear where savings will come from, but the country’s top officer did say savings can come from drawing down facilities and exercises overseas — comments that may set off alarm bells for U.S. allies and partners. The department must “take a hard look at what we do, where we do it,” he said. “There’s a considerable amount that the United States expends on overseas deployments, on overseas bases and locations, etc. Is every one of those absolutely, positively necessary for the defense of the United States? Is every one of them tied to a vital national security interest? Is every one of those exercises that we do really critically important? “Hard looks, real hard looks at everything that we do, I think is warranted. And I have no problem in leading us through that to the extent that we can.”

In the short term, Milley’s predictions seem likely to come true. On 30 NOV, Defense One reported that the Pentagon’s budget top line for FY22 is currently set at $722 billion, roughly 2 percent higher than what the military requested in FY21; department officials have argued for several years that anything less than 3-5 percent real growth year over year is effectively flat. While that budget figure may change when the incoming Biden administration gets its hand on it, the figure is a telling sign that even an administration that has made “rebuilding the military” a key plank of its tenure is looking to cut costs.

More broadly, Milley cast the defense budget as just one part of the overall economic health of the nation, and seemed to say that after the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn that it has caused, the military must accept its place on the list of priorities. “I believe you have to have a very strong and capable military. But you also have to have a very strong and capable economy, you have to have a very resilient country as a whole, you have to have a great education system, you’ve got to have great infrastructure — all things well beyond the purview of the Department of Defense,” he said.

“Your military is dependent upon a national economy. And we have had a significant pandemic. We’ve had a downturn and an economic situation nationally for almost going on a year now. We’ve got significant unemployment and so on and so forth. So the most important part that you need to do is take care of the COVID piece, get that behind us and breathe new life into the economy. Once you do that, then you can put additional monies into the military.” [Source: Defense News | Aaron Mehta | December 2, 2020 ++]

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Navy 1ST Fleet

Being Resurrected to Cover Indo-Pacific Region

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The Navy is resurrecting the 1st Fleet, a spokesman for the Navy secretary confirmed 3 DEC, days after the service’s top civilian leader called for a U.S. counterweight to rapidly growing Chinese military might in the Indo-Pacific region. The “administrative requirements” to recommission the 1st Fleet “are in the final stages of coordination,” Capt. Jereal Dorsey, a spokesman for Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, said in an email to Stars and Stripes. Braithwaite is working with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, Congress, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen David Berger and other stakeholders on ensuring the Navy maintains its maritime dominance in an era of great power competition, Dorsey said.

The Navy secretary signaled U.S. intentions during a speech 17 NOV at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium. “We want to stand up a new numbered fleet,” Braithwaite said at the time. “And we want to put that numbered fleet in the crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, and we’re really going to have an [INDOPACOM] footprint.” The mission Braithwaite described now belongs to the 7th Fleet, based at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, the only U.S. fleet in the Indo-Pacific. It includes the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which is supported at times by ships from the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet.

Seventh Fleet is the Navy’s largest deployed fleet with 50-70 ships and submarines, 150 aircraft and approximately 20,000 sailors. Its almost 48 million-square-mile operations area stretches from the International Date Line in the central Pacific to the India/Pakistan border and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south. The Navy can’t rely on 7th Fleet alone to cover that area, Braithwaite said. Its ships deploy frequently for missions such as freedom-of-navigation patrols in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, where Beijing has built military bases on artificial islands in disputed waters.

Meanwhile, China’s navy has been growing rapidly. In September, it sent both of its aircraft carriers to sea as construction on a third continued. “We have to look to our other allies and partners like Singapore, like India, and actually put a numbered fleet where it would be extremely relevant if, God forbid, we were to ever to get in any kind of a dust-up,” Braithwaite said at the symposium. A new fleet could provide a much more formidable deterrent, he said. “So we’re going to create the 1st Fleet, and we’re going to put it, if not Singapore right out of the chocks, we’re going to look to make it more expeditionary-oriented and move it across the Pacific until it is where our allies and partners see that it could best assist them as well as to assist us,” he said. The 1st Fleet previously existed from just after World War II to the early 1970s.

“The obvious location for the fleet’s home port is Cockburn Sound in Perth alongside the Australian naval base HMAS Stirling, Ross Babbage, a former Australian assistant defense secretary, said in an email Friday. “It is in an excellent swing location, offers ready access to the [Southeast] Asian straits and provides vast land-based strategic depth,” he said. Western Australia is a top-rated port call for U.S. sailors and their families would consider the area a perfect resort environment, Babbage added. “The Australian Government has already announced a substantial upgrade of many naval base and support facilities in the area,” he said. “This will include early installation of a new, very advanced underwater range and sub-surface surveillance system.”

Singapore is another natural homeport for the fleet since it already hosts U.S. aircraft carrier port calls, said Paul Buchanan, an American security analyst based in Auckland, New Zealand, in an email 4 DEC. Its disadvantages are a narrow, congested maritime space and laying within striking range of Chinese missiles. Another potential home for the fleet, Darwin, in northern Australia has immediate access to the Pacific without the congestion problems and is largely out of reach of land-based Chinese missiles, Buchanan said. “The port at Darwin would need to be dredged and expanded but otherwise would be a natural home port that also includes the already deployed 2,500 man Marine Rotational Force and its 3 (ground, air, logistics) combat elements working on a six month in, six month out rotation,” he said. Basing the fleet there would be a boon to the Darwin economy and welcomed by its people, whereas Singapore would find it trickier to justify the huge U.S. presence that basing the fleet there would entail, Buchanan said.

Lombrum Naval Base and airfield on the Papua New Guinean island of Manus is already being expanded under the joint Australian-U.S. redevelopment plan. However, the base is far east of the Indian Ocean and would need a lot of new infrastructure to support a fleet, he said. China is developing naval facilities in places such as Pakistan and Djibouti, so it makes sense for its regional rivals to join forces and strengthen their collective defenses, Buchanan said. “A 1st Fleet home port, especially on the Eastern Rim of the Indian Ocean, could serve as a cornerstone for that effort,” he said. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Seth Robson | December 4, 2020 ++]

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Navy 2nd Fleet

Update 01: Focus to Be On Russian Threat

The Navy plans to rename U.S. Fleet Forces Command to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, harkening back to a time when the Navy was fully focused on maritime operations in the Northern Atlantic rather than the Global War on Terror, the secretary of the Navy told a Senate panel 2 DEC.

“As the world changes, we must be bold, evolve, and change with it. Instead of perpetuating a structure designed to support yesterday’s Joint Forces Command, we are aligning to today’s threat. To meet the unique maritime challenges of the Atlantic theater, we will rename Fleet Forces Command as the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and we will refocus our naval forces in this important region on their original mission: controlling the maritime approaches to the United States and to those of our allies,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite told the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing on Wednesday. “The Atlantic Fleet will confront the reassertive Russian Navy, which has been deployed closer and closer to our East Coast, with a tailored maritime presence capability and lethality.”

During the hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, reviewed the history of Fleet Forces Command and asked Navy Secretary Braithwaite if the move was “to recognize the reality of this increased Russian presence and the fact that great power competition is now sort of the dominant concern of the National Defense Strategy?” Braithwaite confirmed that that was the case.

The Atlantic Fleet existed in Norfolk, Va., for a century, from 1906 until 2006. Though those 100 years brought various iterations of fleet organization, by 2006 LANTFLT remained the naval component commander for U.S. Strategic Command as well as U.S. Northern Command. The Commander, Fleet Forces Command title was tacked on to LANTFLT just after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 “to improve alignment and organization structure to ensure the Navy’s fleets, staffs, systems and processes delivered a combat capable Navy ready to respond to all contingencies,” according to a Fleet Forces timeline. In 2006 then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen overhauled the organization, doing away with the LANTFLT title and creating U.S. Fleet Forces Command to “serve as the primary advocate for fleet personnel, training, requirements, maintenance and operations issues.”

To this day, Fleet Forces is the chief readiness organization for the fleet, as well as the naval component for NORTHCOM and STRATCOM. USNI News understands that the responsibilities to the two combatant commanders are unlikely to change; however, Fleet Forces’ role in readiness could change if LANTFLT focuses primarily on warfighting. If that were to be the case, though the secretary of the Navy has the authority to change the command’s name to U.S. Atlantic Fleet, there could be some larger structural changes to roles and responsibilities that would require congressional approval.

The move to bring back Atlantic Fleet comes after a 2018 decision to reestablish U.S. 2nd Fleet in Norfolk as a means of focusing more on anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic and with European allies on the other side of the ocean. Additionally, Braithwaite also discussed the re-establishment of U.S. 1st Fleet, which he announced last month at the Naval Submarine League annual conference.

SECNAV Braithwaite said 2 DEC that 1st Fleet would be “an agile, mobile, at-sea command” – compared to U.S. 7th Fleet, which has its headquarters in Japan but can also deploy and operate at sea aboard command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19). 7th Fleet will remain in Japan and cover out towards the international dateline and in towards the South China Sea, whereas 1st Fleet will be more focused on the convergence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and out towards the border with U.S. 5th Fleet near the Northern Arabian Sea. Though China has more territorial disputes in what will likely remain 7th Fleet, it increasingly relies on the area that will become 1st Fleet to transport goods and expand its influence into the Middle East and Africa.

“This will reassure our allies and partners of our presence and commitment to this region, while ensuring any potential adversary knows we are committed to global presence to ensure rule of law and freedom of the seas. We are determined today to make the bold changes required to ensure that our forces are prepared to dominate any potential battlespace and return home safely.”, he said during the hearing. “We are going to recommission the 1st Fleet, which like the 7th Fleet would operate in the greater Pacific region under the command and control of the United States Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Hawaii. It wouldn’t necessarily take ships from the 7th Fleet or from the 3rd Fleet; it would be a sharing, that’s how our numbered fleets operate, predicated on the demand and the threat that emanates in the part of the ocean in which those respective fleets operate,” he added later in the hearing.

As a result of both changes, 1st, 3rd and 7th Fleets would report up through U.S. Pacific Fleet; 2nd and 4th Fleets would report up through U.S. Atlantic Fleet; U.S. 5th Fleet would continue to report up through U.S. Central Command; and U.S. 6th Fleet would continue to report up through U.S. Naval Forces Europe.

“Secretary Braithwaite is working closely with Acting Secretary of Defense, Congress, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of Naval Operations, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and other stakeholders on ensuring the Department of the Navy maintains its maritime dominance in today’s era of Great Power Competition. In order to fulfill this priority, the administrative requirements to change the name from U.S. Fleet Forces Command to U.S. Atlantic Fleet and the recommissioning of the Navy’s 1st Fleet in the INDO-PACOM AOR are in the final stages of coordination,” spokesman Capt. J. Dorsey told USNI News today regarding the LANTFLT and 1st Fleet changes.

Also at the hearing, Braithwaite and Gilday discussed ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and plans to administer the vaccine to the globally spread-out fleet once it’s available. Gilday said the Navy had two separate but related plans: one on how to distribute the vaccine, and one for how to prioritize which personnel would get the shot first.

On the vaccine itself, Gilday said the Pfizer vaccine requires extra-cold freezers and is only good for about five days once it’s thawed. As a result, the CNO said that vaccine would be going to about 10 continental U.S. sites across the Department of Defense, with all the major CONUS military medical facilities getting the Pfizer vaccine. A handful of DoD medical treatment facilities outside the U.S. would get the Moderna vaccine, which can be refrigerated for about 30 days after it’s thawed and allows for more flexibility in getting it into the arms of troops scattered across the globe.

As for which sailors would get the vaccine first, Gilday said that Navy healthcare workers, as well as emergency and safety personnel on installations, would be at the top of the list. Then would come sailors in strategic forces units such as cyber warfare and ballistic missile submarine crews. The next tier of sailors would be those in units deploying within the next three months. “We have a good count of what those numbers are, and if there’s anything we’re really good at it’s mass immunization in the U.S. military. And so we feel pretty confident that once we get the vaccine distributed, that the vaccination piece – now that we have the prioritization well thought out – will happen pretty quickly.”

Later in the hearing, Braithwaite and Gilday discussed their recent decision to decommission USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) instead of repairing the ship that burned for five days in July. “I’m a businessman, Mr. Chairman, and at the end of the day there’s a return on investment,” Braithwaite said. “And the return on investment of what it would have taken to rebuild that ship – working very closely with the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Esper wanted to see that ship come back, and for all the right reasons, to send the right message, to say we don’t give up our ships very easily – we have a battle flag that hangs in Memorial Hall at the Naval Academy that says ‘Don’t Give Up The Ship’ – but using logic and looking at what it would have required to put that ship back together, it would have been a foolish investment of our American taxpayer dollars to invest in a ship that was over 20 years old instead of looking at the options to build another ship in the future that would have more relative capabilities.”

He said Bonhomme Richard wasn’t going to deploy until 2022, which gives the Navy and Marine Corps time to figure out how to meet operational needs with other resources. Gilday added, “in terms of near-term impacts operationally, we’ve mitigated those. I think longer-term, let’s say out to three to five years, we’re taking a look at what those other options could be: do we accelerate the production of a big-deck vessel? What would that mean with respect to the amphibious force we’re building for the future? What are the priorities that we want to take a look at within the department? What is the demand signal from the secretary of defense and the combatant commanders for those vessels? And so that’s work to be done that’s ongoing right now.” [Source: USNI News | Megan Eckstein | December 2, 2020 ++]

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Navy Frigate Program

Congress Pushes the US Navy to Get FFG(X) Right

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The U.S. Navy will have to set up a land-based testing site for the engineering plant destined for its new Constellation-class frigate program, according to a provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act on President Trump’s desk. The frigate program, lately known as FFG(X), includes a propulsion system that hasn’t been used before in the Navy, which congressional authorizers see as a risk to be mitigated by a testing facility. The ship is being adapted from Fincantieri’s FREMM design, which was a strategy to reduce overall risk in the program by using an existing design.

“While recognizing an existing parent design can reduce design, technical, and integration risks,” an explanatory statement for the NDAA notes, “the conferees are concerned that significant risks remain in the FFG-62 program, including: cost realism; shifting to predominantly U.S. component suppliers instead of the mainly foreign suppliers used in the parent vessel design; and a complex Combined Diesel Electric and Gas Hull, Mechanical and Electrical (HM&E) drive train that has not previously been used on U.S. Navy ships.”

The move is the latest in a series of measures dictated to the Navy by an increasingly skeptical Congress that has repeatedly expressed concerns about the Navy’s dubious track record for fielding new technologies. Members have put restrictions on how fast the Navy can move on some unmanned technologies, for example, fearing the service will charge too far ahead and find it can’t make its concepts work, an issue that has dogged the littoral combat ship program. The conference report makes specific mention of the LCS as an example of the Navy skipping land-based testing to its detriment.

  • “Since 1972, [land based engineering and test sites] testing has reduced the acquisition risk of five of the seven Navy surface combatant classes (Spruance-class, Oliver Hazard Perry-class, Ticonderoga-class, Arleigh Burke-class, and Zumwalt-class),” the explanation reads. “The littoral combat ship classes, the Freedom- and Independence-classes, are the two recent classes that have not had the benefit of a LBETS.
  • “Since lead ship deliveries in 2008 and 2010, both LCS classes have encountered significant, costly, and debilitating engineering failures. The conferees believe many of these LCS engineering failures would have been discovered, analyzed, and corrected faster with less negative operational impact had the Navy established a LCS LBETS.”

Per the statement, the Constellation-class frigate engineering test facility will be required to:

  • “Test of the full propulsion drive train”
  • “Test and facilitation of machinery control systems integration”
  • Be able to simulate “the full range of electrical demands to enable the investigation of load dynamics between the HM&E equipment, combat system, and auxiliary equipment.”

The Navy will be required to submit its plan for implementing the land-based testing site in its 2022 budget materials. Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA over an unrelated provision he wants added to the bill as part of an ongoing feud with social media companies, though it’s unclear if he will follow-through on the veto threat. [Source: DefenseNews | David B. Larter | December 5, 2020 ++]

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USAF Mothball Effort

What Was Wanted in 2021 & What They Got

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B-1B Lancer

Congress is seeking to block the Air Force from retiring any of its A-10 Warthog attack planes, KC-135 refueling tankers and RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones this fiscal year. On 3 DEC, the House and Senate Armed Services committees put forward the conference report of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act — a final version of the defense bill that includes input from both chambers. The bill was expected to be approved by Congress and will then move to the desk of President Donald Trump, who has threatened to veto it.

This year’s NDAA contained policy provisions on everything from the Pentagon’s organizational structure to military bases named for Confederate officers. For the Air Force, the biggest concern was whether Congress would greenlight the divestment of more than 100 aircraft, which service leaders said would free up funding for modernization priorities that include space technologies and the Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept (which was recently updated to Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control). Lawmakers have opted to let the Air Force retire some bombers, tankers and cargo planes, but they stridently protected others like the A-10 and Global Hawk from any reductions. Here is a breakdown of what the Air Force wanted to send to the boneyard, and how Congress responded:

A-10: Congress’ battles with the Air Force over the venerable A-10 have been legion over the past decade, with the service seeking to retire the entire fleet in the mid-2010s. In FY21, the Air Force sought a more modest adjustment — the retirement of 44 A-10s, or about three squadrons worth of aircraft, leaving about 237 Warthogs to fly close-air support missions in the next decade. But Congress put the kibosh on that as well, stipulating in the NDAA that no funding be used to divest or retire any of the 281 A-10s currently in the Air Force’s inventory.

Bombers: The Air Force hoped to retire 17 of its oldest B-1s, which leaders said were putting strain on the fleet due to the manpower needed to keep them running. In the defense bill, Congress repealed an existing law that requires the Air Force to maintain at least 36 combat coded B-1 aircraft — essentially agreeing to a reduction to the B-1 fleet. However, lawmakers put several new stipulations in place: The Air Force must maintain 92 bombers of any kind in its primary mission aircraft inventory. The service must place four retired B-1s in storage so that they can be reclaimed if necessary. And it cannot remove any B-1 maintenance billets, ensuring that the B-1s that stick around will get the time and attention needed to keep them flying.

ISR fleet: Congress also rejected the Air Force’s plan to retire all the Global Hawk Block 20 and 30 surveillance drones — a total of 24 aircraft — which would have left RQ-4 Block 40s and the U-2 spy plane around to conduct the high-altitude surveillance mission. Over the past decade, the Air Force has tried multiple times to divest its Global Hawks and U-2s, with Congress refusing to permit the retirement of either aircraft. In response, Congress has stipulated a list of requirements the Air Force must meet before lawmakers consider that request. Specifically, lawmakers have asked for certifications from the Defense Department that the Air Force is developing a cost-effective way to replace the RQ-4 or U-2, or a waiver from the defense secretary stating that a better but more expensive capability is in development.

Neither has been received, lawmakers wrote in the conference report. “The conferees understand and acknowledge that modernizing airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities will necessitate divestment of legacy systems,” the conference report stated. “However, the conferees remain concerned about the Air Force’s continued inability to execute an ISR acquisition and replacement plan that appropriately manages operational risk to the global combatant commanders, as well as the service’s failure to comply with current public law.”

Tankers: The Air Force wanted to divest 13 KC-135s and 16 KC-10s in FY21, but the NDAA sketches out an alternative plan — one that forbids any KC-135 retirements over the next three years. Congress will allow the Air Force to move down to 50 primary mission KC-10A aircraft in FY21, 38 primary mission KC-10A aircraft in FY22, and 26 primary mission KC-10A aircraft in FY23. The Air Force currently has 56 KC-10s that are considered primary mission aircraft, so the language would allow the service to retire six aircraft in FY21 and a total of 30 tankers over the next three years, a source familiar with the bill told Defense News in June, when the House Armed Services Committee released identical language.

Cargo planes: The service hoped to retire 24 C-130Hs, most of which would be directly replaced by 19 C-130Js that are set to be delivered in FY21. While the NDAA does not address the issue directly, it sets a minimum airlift aircraft inventory at 287 aircraft, including 230 combat-coded cargo planes. The report also included a provision that would prohibit the Air Force from retiring only Air National Guard airlift assets.

[Source: DefenseNews | Valerie Insinna | December 4, 2020 ++]

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Military Rape

Update 01: Supreme Court Decides Cases Have No Statute of Limitations

In an 8-0 opinion issued 10 DEC, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that military personnel accused of a rape between 1986 and 2006 — a period previously subject to a five-year statute of limitations — can be charged for the crime. At issue in U.S. v. Briggs is a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, or CAAF, to overturn three rape convictions that occurred within that 20-year period. Prior to 1996, the UCMJ held that rape was a crime punishable by death and therefore had no time limit for prosecuting the crime. A 1998 CAAF ruling established the five-year time limit, which remained in place until Congress moved to abolish it in 2006.

In the new opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the justices said the Uniform Code of Military Justice favored the government’s interpretation that military rape cases are “punishable by death” and therefore, carry no statute of limitations regardless of when the crime occurred. The justices also agreed with government’s argument that rape is a particularly damaging crime in the military context because it disrupts good order and discipline. “Among other things, the government argues that a rape committed by a service member may cause special damage by critically undermining unit cohesion and discipline and that, in some circumstances, the crime may have serious international implications. That also appears to have been the view of Congress and the executive,” Alito wrote.

Attorneys for Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Briggs, convicted in 2014 of raping another service member in 2005, had argued that the statute of limitations did not exist when Briggs committed the crime. That defense was based on a 1977 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated the death penalty for rape cases in the U.S.; CAAF’s 1998 decision and a February 2018 case; U.S. v. Mangahas, in which the military appeals court ruled that the death penalty for rape cases was a violation of the UCMJ’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Briggs’s conviction, as well as others, came after the law was changed to get rid of the five-year prosecution time limit. But in Mangahas, decided in February 2018, the military appeals court affirmed the statute of limitations for cases that occurred in the 20-year legal gray area. In Briggs, the government argued that rape is an “egregious and destructive crime” in any case, but rape by a member of the military “creates a unique set of harms that goes even beyond those of rape by a civilian.”

Acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argued that the provision needed to remain to maintain “order and discipline and operate in a national security environment.” The justices agreed, with Alito saying that “punishable by death” is a “term of art that is defined by the provisions of the UCMJ specifying the punishments for the offenses it outlaws.” “The meaning of a statement often turns on the context in which it is made, and that is no less true of statutory language … And in these cases, context is determinative,” Alito wrote. The decision reinstates the conviction of Briggs and two other cases — that of Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Collins, who raped an airman in 2000, and Air Force Lt. Col. Humphrey Daniels, convicted of raping a woman in Minot, North Dakota, in 1998.

The previous CAAF rulings have resulted in the dismissal of at least 10 other military rape cases, including the U.S. Army’s case against retired Army Maj. Gen. James Grazioplene, accused in 2015 of sexually assaulting his teenage daughter between 1983 and 1989. Grazioplene was prosecuted in a civilian court in Virginia, where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years’ probation after spending 18 months in jail. In an addendum to the opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch questioned whether the U.S. Supreme Court has authority over the CAAF. “I continue to think this court lacks jurisdiction to hear appeals directly from the CAAF,” Gorsuch wrote. “But a majority of the court believes we have jurisdiction, and I agree with the court’s decision on the merits. I therefore join the court’s opinion.” Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in the ruling since the case was argued 13 OCT, 13 days before her confirmation. [Source: Military.com | Patricia Kime | December 10, 2020 ++]

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POW/MIA Recoveries & Burials

Reported 01 thru 15 DEC 2020 | Six

“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 http://www. dpaa. mil and click on ‘Our Missing’. Refer to https://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Year/2020 for a listing and details of the 120 accounted for in 2020. If you wish to provide information about an American missing in action from any conflict or have an inquiry about MIAs, contact:

== Mail: Public Affairs Office, 2300 Defense Pentagon, Washington, D. C. 20301-2300, Attn: External Affairs

Call: Phone: (703) 699-1420

== Message: Fill out form on http://www.dpaa. mil/Contact/ContactUs.aspx

Family members seeking more information about missing loved ones may also call the following Service Casualty Offices: U. S. Air Force (800) 531-5501, U. S. Army (800) 892-2490, U. S. Marine Corps (800) 847-1597, U. S. Navy (800) 443-9298, or U. S. Department of State (202) 647-5470. The 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:

LOOK FOR

— Navy Chief Warrant Officer John G. Connolly, 48, 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 Connolly. Interment services are pending. Read about Connolly.

— Navy Fire Controlman 2nd Class Harold F. Trapp, 24, and Navy Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class William H. Trapp, 23. were 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 the Trapp brothers. Interment services are pending. Read about the Trapp brothers.

— U.S. Navy Chief Carpenter’s Mate Tedd M. Furr, 39, 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 Furr. Interment services are pending. Read about Furr.

— U.S. Navy Bandmaster James B. Booe, 42, 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 Booe. Interment services are pending. Read about Booe.


— U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class Carl S. Johnson, 20,
of Phoenix, Arizona, was assigned to the battleship USS West Virginia, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. The USS West Virginia sustained multiple torpedo hits, but timely counter-flooding measures taken by the crew prevented it from capsizing, and it came to rest on the shallow harbor floor. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 106 crewmen, including Johnson. Johnson will be buried Jan. 15, 2021, in his hometown. Read about Johnson.


— U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Louis S. Doddo, 30,
of South Norwalk, Connecticut, was a member of the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. He was killed July 7, 1944, during a massive Japanese attack against the 105th on the island of Saipan. His remains were not known to have been recovered. The Army issued a finding of death on July 8, 1945. Doddo will be buried May 2021 in his hometown. Read about Doddo.

[Source: http://www.dpaa.mil | December 2020 ++]

* VA *

VA Care Abroad

Update 01: Vets Left to Navigate Pandemic Problems without VA Help

When Navy veteran Jesse Rivera moved to Mexico two years ago, he was confident he could receive the same or better medical care from doctors in Puerto Vallarta that he had back in the United States. He was right, at least until the coronavirus pandemic. Rivera, who suffers from back pain and sleep apnea related to injuries from his military career, says that under the Veterans Affairs’ Foreign Medical Program, his service-connected conditions are covered in full. He’s had chiropractor visits and other medical appointments routinely refunded by department officials, with few complaints about the process.

But medical issues not connected to the military are not covered under the program, even if they may present serious health threats to veterans. In the case of coronavirus, that means veterans living outside the United States can’t get any medical coverage for testing or treatment, even if most veterans in the United States can get that assistance. “If I get Covid, I’m going to end up on a ventilator, because of my health conditions,” said Rivera, 33. “But to even get a Covid test, VA is telling me I’d have to get on a plane and come back to the United States for them to pay for it. And there’s no way in the world I’m getting back on a plane right now.”

Rivera and other advocates have been pushing for months for VA to amend its rules and extend some pandemic medical assistance to the out-of-country veterans for months, but with no success thus far. “We have a large contingent of [American] veterans here in Puerto Vallarta, and a lot of them are older vets — a high risk group for this,” Rivera said. “They’re the ones that may need the help the most.” About 55,500 veterans are currently registered in the Foreign Medical Program, but VA officials said only about 4,500 were active users of the program in fiscal 2020. Department press secretary Christina Noel said that under existing law “VA is prohibited from covering COVID-19 testing or treatment abroad for veterans without a VA-adjudicated service-connected disability.” She said responsibility for changing that lies with Congress.

But earlier this year, lawmakers said VA could do more to help those veterans through emergency response authorities, including using some of the $2.1 billion in pandemic response funding provided by Congress last spring. “The VA must be prepared to respond to veterans abroad that require treatment for COVID-19, regardless of service-connection,” a group of senators wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie last April. That effort was led by Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who received a reply a month later from VA leadership asserting again that “VA is only authorized to reimburse veterans abroad for COVID-19 testing and treatment if it is reasonably found to be aggravating a service-connected condition.”

Lawmakers in recent months have been unable to reach consensus on a new pandemic support bill which might include such a change. Meanwhile, VA provides general medical information to new enrollees of the Foreign Medical Program, but has not made any new efforts to inform participants about their options regarding coronavirus issues. In a twist, Rivera’s finance could get coverage for the same coronavirus issues through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), which covers spouses and dependents — regardless of where they live — for those conditions. Rivera said he has reached out to nearly everyone he can think of for help on the issue: VA officials, the local U.S. embassy, members of Congress. So far, he has received a little feedback from lawmakers, but any legislative fix is unlikely until the new congressional session starts next year.

He thinks VA leaders could likely find some partial solution for the issue on their own, but “we are obviously not very high on the secretary’s list of priorities.” For now, he has found a few local doctors who can get him a coronavirus test if needed (at $250 a test, significantly above what other veterans might pay in most American cities) and has taken extra precautions to try and avoid any chance of contracting the sickness. He has also started a Facebook group for veterans living in the area to share their struggles and find alternatives for their health care needs. “We’ve been completely left behind in this pandemic,” he said of the veterans community in Puerto Vallarta. “And lives are at stake now.” [Source: MilitaryTimes | Leo Shane III | December 9, 2020 ++]

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VA Covid-19 Care

Update 03: Priority for Receiving Vaccines

Black, Hispanic and Native American veterans will be given priority for receiving coronavirus vaccines once they become available, according to a document published 8 DEC by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Race and ethnicity, as well as veterans’ ages and existing health conditions, will be taken into consideration by the VA when determining who should be vaccinated first. According to VA data, Black, Hispanic and Native American veterans are disproportionately affected by the virus, reflecting trends across the broader population.

Black veterans account for 16% of coronavirus cases across the VA system and 22% of deaths, despite comprising only 12% of the overall population of veterans in the United States. About 77% of the overall veteran population is white, according to VA data. White veterans account for 60% of coronavirus cases and 61% of deaths. “We’re … considering the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnicity minority groups as we plan for how to offer COVID-19 vaccines to veterans,” the VA wrote in the document released Tuesday. Britain became the first nation Tuesday to start a mass vaccination campaign to combat the coronavirus. The country approved a Pfizer vaccine, which is under consideration by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA could approve the vaccine as soon as this weekend.

As soon as the FDA authorizes a vaccine, the VA will receive a limited amount, the department said. The agency will first make the vaccines available to its front-line health care staff. The VA operates the largest health care system in the country, with more than 350,000 health care workers. The agency did not specify how many of them would be first in line to be vaccinated. Vaccines will also go to veterans based on their risk of spreading the virus or becoming severely ill from it. In addition to Black, Hispanic and Native American veterans, those at higher risk include elderly veterans, veterans living in group living facilities or those with health problems, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

The 37 VA sites chosen for initial distribution of VA’s allotted 73,000 doses of vaccine will closely monitor patients and staff for side effects and log this information in its vaccine monitoring and tracking system. This is the same system VA uses to monitor reactions to all vaccines, including those for the flu and shingles. VA will report directly to the CDC data on all vaccine doses administered by VA. The department will also provide general, public updates on the number of people who receive the vaccination at these sites, similar to how VA posts COVID-19 testing figures. The 37 VA sites are spread throughout the country and include:

  • Birmingham (AL) VA Health Care System
  • Phoenix (AZ) VA Health Care System
  • Greater Los Angeles (CA) VA Health Care System
  • Palo Alto (CA) VA Health Care System
  • Eastern Colorado (CO) VA Health Care System
  • Connecticut (West Haven Campus) VA Health Care System
  • Washington DC VA Health Care System
  • Orlando (FL) VA Health Care System
  • Augusta (GA) VA Health Care System
  • Edward J. Hines Jr. VA Hospital (IL)
  • Lexington (KY) VA Health Care System
  • Southeast Louisiana (New Orleans) VA Health Care System
  • Maryland (Baltimore) VA Health Care System
  • Bedford (MA) VA Health Care System
  • Ann Arbor (MI) VA Health Care System
  • Minneapolis (MN) VA Health Care System
  • Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital (Columbia MO)
  • St. Louis (MO) VA Health Care System
  • Omaha (NE) VA Health Care System
  • Southern Nevada (North Las Vegas) VA Health Care System
  • Raymond G. Murphy (NM) VA Health Care System
  • New York Harbor (Brooklyn) VA Health Care System
  • Western New York (Buffalo) VA Health Care System
  • Durham (NC) VA Health Care System
  • Cleveland (OH) VA Health Care System
  • Oklahoma City (OK) VA Health Care System
  • Portland (OR) VA Health Care System
  • Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center (Philadelphia PA)
  • Pittsburgh (PA) VA Health Care System
  • Caribbean (Puerto Rico) VA Health Care System
  • Memphis (TN) VA Health Care System
  • Dallas (TX) VA Medical Center
  • Michael E. DeBakey VA Health Care System (Houston TX)
  • Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital (San Antonio TX)
  • Richmond (VA) VA Health Care System
  • Puget Sound (WA) VA Health Care System
  • Milwaukee (WI) VA Health Care System

As more vaccines become available, the department will administer them to all VA patients who want one, the department said. About 9 million veterans are enrolled in VA health care. The VA said the vaccine will be free to VA patients and will not require a copayment. The vaccine will be available only at certain VA medical centers to start, and not administered at the department’s community-based outpatient clinics, the document states. The department submitted a comprehensive vaccination plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October, but it will not be publicly released until the FDA approves a vaccine and the CDC issues final recommendations for administering them, the VA said. “We’re working with the CDC and other federal partners to develop a phased plan that will help us do the most good for the most people,” the document states.

Last week, the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System sent an email to veterans, stating that the New Orleans VA would be administering vaccines and that veterans needed to call to reserve theirs. When asked about the email, VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said, “Veterans do not need to call to reserve a vaccine.” Information telling veterans to call the New Orleans VA was later removed from the system’s website. “VA will be releasing its nationwide vaccine distribution plan soon,” Noel said. “Under this plan, veterans and VA employees who indicate a desire to be vaccinated will receive a vaccine once it is authorized and available, following the prioritization guidance from CDC and VA.”

The conversation about vaccines comes as the VA – like the rest of the country – faces the most active coronavirus cases it’s seen at one time. On 8 DEC, the VA reported nearly 16,000 active cases and 5,380 deaths among VA patients, as well as 77 employee deaths. The VA hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, tallied the most cases, with 507. On Tuesday, it became one of six VA hospitals that have reported 100 or more coronavirus deaths at their facilities, joining East Orange, New Jersey; New York City; Harlingen, Texas; Minneapolis; and Columbia, South Carolina. The VA’s data on cases and deaths does not include all veterans in the United States, nor does it include the hundreds of deaths that have occurred at state-run veterans’ homes. Veterans seeking additional information should visit the VA Coronavirus Vaccine FAQs webpage, contact their care team, or visit their facility webpage. [Source: Stars & Stripes + VA News Release | Nikki Wentling | December 8 & 10, 2020 ++]

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VA Autism Care

New Coverage under ChampVA

The Department of Veterans Affairs has informed beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) that, as of December 1, applied behavior analysis (ABA), an evidence-based treatment for autism spectrum disorder, will be allowed as a covered health benefit. “We are so proud that after conversations with congressional staff and meaningful engagement with the Department of Veterans Affairs, we can celebrate today that children with autism covered by CHAMPVA will have access to the support they need,” said Stuart Spielman, Autism Speaks senior vice president of advocacy. “All Americans and members of the autism community deserve this access, and especially those who have given so much for their country.”

A key tenet of the mission of Autism Speaks is ensuring that individuals and families – across the spectrum and throughout the life span – have access to reliable information, services and support. Services like ABA can be critical in supporting people on the spectrum to achieve the best possible outcomes. The addition of ABA coverage to CHAMPVA benefits means that individuals and families affected by autism will have access to care that was previously not covered under this program, a health plan specifically for the spouses and dependents of disabled veterans.

Among those impacted is Shaina Purser, whose 7-year-old daughter is on the spectrum. “All parents want the best for their children and recognize their impact on their children’s lives. Understanding that you can make a difference in your child’s development but knowing that you lack the resources necessary to help them is heartbreaking,” Purser shared. “Being able to access ABA services for my daughter is a huge relief. I feel like I finally have the tools I need to do my job as a parent in helping my child thrive, not just survive.”

“This change is happening because of the persistent advocacy of parents like Shaina Purser, who have been tireless in their pursuit of improving coverage for not just their own families, but for all beneficiaries with autism that have CHAMPVA coverage. We were proud to be a part of this effort and will work to ensure that with this policy change, families will be able to access services,” Spielman added.

Autism Speaks celebrates this action as a meaningful step toward achieving the organization’s vision of a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential, particularly for veterans of the U.S. armed services who are permanently disabled and their families. Individuals or families in need of information, resources or support are invited to contact the Autism Response Team (ART) at 888-AUTISM2 or [email protected]. For more information on CHAMPVA coverage, you can call 1-800-733-8387 or visit https://iris.custhelp.va.gov. [Source: VFW Action Corps Weekly | December 11, 2020 ++]

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VA Lawsuit ~ Final Rule

New Rules Restricting Caregiver Benefits

A former Navy SEAL and a veterans not-for-profit are suing the Department of Veterans Affairs for restricting disabled veterans’ access to benefits and caregivers. Andrew Sheets, a former petty officer second class who saw 33 combat missions in Afghanistan from 2003-2004, and Veteran Warriors, Inc. alleged in a complaint filed 30 NOV that the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Improvements and Amendments Under the VA Mission Act of 2018, more commonly known as the Final Rule, “is arbitrary and capricious and exceeds VA authority.”

The VA caregiver program, established under the Caregiver Act in 2010, currently provides thousands of dollars a month to the caregivers of nearly 20,000 veterans who separated from the military after Sept. 11, 2001. The Final Rule was designed to expand these benefits, first to veterans who served before May 1975 and then to those who served between 1975 and 2001. Officials said the expanded benefits of the Final Rule, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2020, could reach an estimated 41,000 individuals in the coming years. The Final Rule also changed the caregiver program’s eligibility requirements, meaning current recipients would be reevaluated and possibly removed from the program.

Rather than mandate a specific disability rating for eligibility, the initial Caregiver Act was open to veterans who could not perform at least one activity of daily living as defined by the act or needed supervision, protection or instruction. Among its many revisions, the Final Rule reduced the number of benefit tiers from three to two and required a disability rating greater than 70 percent and in-person care services to be eligible. “The VA’s Final Rule creates such a high standard of eligibility for our vulnerable veterans and caregivers that either by design or default thousands of veterans would now be left without critical assistance,” said Bart Stichman, executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program. “During a pandemic and at a time when the VA is attempting to reduce veterans suicides, the VA should be ensuring that needy veterans have access to vital caregiver services rather than limiting their access.”

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The NVLSP and law firm Sidley Austin LLP are representing Sheets, his wife and Veteran Warriors pro bono. Of Veteran Warriors’ nearly 5,000 veteran members, approximately 70 percent participate in the VA’s caregiver program. Many of these members face imminent harm due to the changes made by the Final Rule, the organization said in a press release. “The VA’s adoption of the Final Rule is not only unlawful, it would cut off veterans and their caregivers from a program of benefits and services they desperately need,” said Lauren Price, founder and managing director of Veteran Warriors. “The Final Rule is doubly cruel for veterans and caregivers who are in critical need of assistance because the Final Rule not only restricts the number of veterans who qualify for benefits, but also the amount of benefits for those who do qualify.” Price also said that the legacy veterans eligible for caregiver benefits under the rule would be the most likely to suffer from it.

The VA initially awarded Sheets, who separated from the Navy in 2006, a 70 percent disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder with anxiety, panic attacks, secondary depression, and episodic alcohol abuse in sustained remission. He was also diagnosed with mefloquine toxicity for adverse neuropsychiatric effects of the antimalarial drug including paranoia and hallucinogenic dreams. Including a number of other disabilities, his total combined disability rating in 2006 was 90 percent. The VA later increased Sheets’ disability rating to 100 percent in October 2011 and accepted him and his wife into the caregiver program. Now, the Final Rule has put the benefits Sheets and his wife receive at risk of being reduced or withdrawn.

“I can’t imagine not being able to be a part of this program anymore,” Kristie Sheets, Andrew Sheets’ wife and primary caregiver, told Military Times. “I don’t want to see this program go away. It’s helped us; I know it’s helping others.” Kristie Sheets was the first approved caregiver in Northern California when she and her husband were accepted in 2011. After quitting her job the year prior to care for her husband and their three children full time, the health insurance provided by the program alone was vital. “It’s more than 9-5, it’s more than 40 hours a week,” she said of caring for her husband. “There’s a lot of stuff that we have to navigate and we have to navigate together, which leaves me little time for other things in life.”

Without the caregiver program, Kristie Sheets said her husband’s VA disability wouldn’t be enough to provide for their family of five. She’s also worried about the lack of VA funding for mental health support outside of the caregiver program. “They’re eroding the mental health part of it from the program, and that seemed to be covering this huge gap that is needed in the VA system,” she said. Until Andrew Sheets is reevaluated by the VA, the family is unsure whether or not they will remain eligible for benefits under the caregiver program, a situation many other disabled veterans and their caregivers find themselves in. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Harm Venhuizen | December 1, 2020 ++]

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VA Blue Button Program

Update 03: EHR Access Means Still Effective After 10 yrs

The VA Blue Button feature on My HealtheVet makes it easy for Veterans to access and download copies of their VA electronic health records.VA recently marked the 10-year anniversary of the VA Blue Button. Using VA Blue Button, Veterans can create customizable Blue Button reports that contain the information and records that they choose. Blue Button reports combine all the selected information into a single electronic file that Veterans can access and download in a simple text file or PDF. Blue Button reports can include VA lab results and images, VA prescriptions, and past and upcoming VA appointment information. Reports can also contain health information that Veterans enter into My HealtheVet, such as emergency contact information. It can also contain personal medical history, as well as labs, tests and prescriptions from non-VA providers.

Since 2010, over 2.5 million My HealtheVet users have downloaded over 41 million files through VA Blue Button. Eligible Veterans can even choose to include Department of Defense military service information, such as military occupational specialty codes, and pay, deployment and retirement details. Once a Veteran has created a report, they can read, print, or save it on their computer or share it with their outside providers, caregivers or family members. For Veterans and their families, being able to easily access VA medical records through My HealtheVet’s VA Blue Button feature has been a huge help in managing their VA care.

Woodrow “Woody” Young, an Army Veteran, said accessing his VA records online through VA Blue Button has helped him take charge of his care. His wife and caregiver, Julie Parson, added, “For Woody’s care, My HealtheVet has been awesome.” To learn more about VA Blue Button, visit the My HealtheVet website. https://www.myhealth.va.gov/learn-more-bb. To access all the information through VA Blue Button, you need a My HealtheVet Premium account. Premium accounts are free, and you can upgrade in only a few steps. At https://www.myhealth.va.gov/premium learn more on the My HealtheVet Premium webpage. [Source: VAntage Point Blog | December 1, 2020 ++]

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ALS

Update 15: Eye Gaze Controlled Wheelchair Drive System

One of the most devastating consequences of ALS is the eventual loss of mobility. As the disease progresses, veterans with ALS lose the ability to move their bodies and become dependent on a power wheelchair. While the loss of mobility has been an insurmountable barrier in the past, exciting new developments in the field of assistive technology (AT) show incredible promise for restoring mobility to Veterans with ALS. Recently, the Minneapolis VA ALS Team was awarded a grant by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to study the impact of a revolutionary new eye gaze controlled wheelchair drive system commercially known as the Ability Drive. Their research team will investigate the impact of the Ability Drive on the ability of Veterans with ALS to operate their wheelchairs independently when all other options have failed.

Upon diagnosis of ALS, the majority of Veterans are still ambulatory and able to walk. As walking becomes more difficult, Veterans must transition to using a rollator (i.e., rolling walker). As walking continues to decline and the rollator is no longer meeting the Veteran’s needs, a power wheelchair is required for maintaining mobility. A Veteran typically starts out driving their wheelchair using a joystick, but eventually must transition to an alternate drive system such as a head array, where the Veteran operates the wheelchair using head movements. During the final stages of the disease, operation of a wheelchair is no longer possible, leading to loss of mobility and ultimately death.

Now, for the first time, through the implementation of this eye gaze controlled wheel-chair drive system, we can preserve independent mobility during the final stages of disease progression. The Ability Drive system consists of three components: The first is an eye gaze device and mount (e.g., speech-generating device (SGD) that is used by individuals with ALS for communication when they have lost the ability to speak or a tablet computer with eye tracking camera); the second component is a power wheelchair with an alternative drive controls port; and the third component is the interface kit and software made by Tolt Technologies (distributed through its distribution partners in the U.S.) that connects the eye gaze device to the power wheelchair and turns the device into a virtual joystick. The patient with ALS is able to drive the wheelchair by selecting the direction of movement from an on-screen menu on the eye gaze device using his or her eyes.

This breakthrough technology is the result of an innovative collaboration between Microsoft and Team Gleason. Steve Gleason, founder of Team Gleason and recent recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal for his advocacy and support of patients with ALS, is a former professional football player for the New Orleans Saints who retired from the NFL after being diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Shortly after being diagnosed, he founded Team Gleason as a non-profit organization to raise awareness and funding for patients with ALS and provide them with access to assistive technology. In 2014, Team Gleason issued a challenge to the accessibility community to develop new technology that would help him and other individuals with ALS live more independently.

Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer answered Team Gleason’s challenge and coordinated a week-long “hackathon”, bringing together a team of programmers to design a prototype for an eye controlled application that would allow Steve to drive his wheelchair using just his eyes. This collaboration resulted in Microsoft releasing the Windows Eye Tracking Application to the accessibility community as open-source code in an effort to promote ongoing innovation and led to the development of the world’s first eye gaze controlled wheelchair drive system. This new technology is already making a difference in the lives of our Veterans with ALS. [Source: VA PM&R Assistive Technology | Fall 2020 ++]

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VA Solid Start

Update 02: Transition to Civilian Life Assistance

VA Solid Start has contacted 70,000 Veterans.

Since its launch in December 2019, the VA Solid Start program has reached nearly 70,000 Veterans to help them connect with VA benefits and services – from education and career counseling to disability compensation and home loan guaranty. Transitioning to civilian life can be challenging. While transitioning service members learn about VA benefits and services during the Transition Assistance Program, they may have more or different questions after they actually leave the military. Through VA Solid Start, newly separated Veterans will receive three phone calls in their first year post-separation – around 90, 180, and 365 days. Veterans can use these calls to get answers to their questions to better understand and connect with the VA benefits and services that can help them, such as secure housing, identify education opportunities, and/or gain access to health care.

What’s more, the Solid Start VA representatives provide a consistent, personal interaction that centers on the individual Veteran’s needs for a successful transition. “In the past, the onus was on Veterans to contact VA about their benefits,” said Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Margarita Devlin. “Solid Start’s proactive model of caring, consistent contact is a game changer in the way VA interacts with Veterans. This program serves a critical component in VA’s overall goal to support Veterans in their first year of transition.” Getting started is often the hardest part of the journey. From helping you understand your benefits to connecting you with career resources, VA is here to help you get a solid start. When you see this number, 1-800-827-0611, take the call! To learn more about Solid Start, please visit https://benefits.va.gov/solid-start. [Source: Vantage Point | Meghan Badame | December 8, 2020 ++]

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Vet Education

Update 03: VA Completes Colmery Act Changes

On 31 OCT VA successfully completed all necessary updates to process education benefits in accordance with the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017. Their completion means faster processing times, allowing VBA to deliver benefits more quickly to GI Bill students. Since being signed into law on August 16, 2017, 31 education-related provisions have been implemented. The provisions include restoration of entitlement, removal of the delimiting date to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and full benefits to eligible Purple Heart recipients.

The implementation of the Colmery Act has been a joint undertaking across VBA and OIT, alongside partnerships with MITRE and systems integrator Accenture Federal Services. Updates represent important benefits changes for GI Bill students expanding opportunities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. They include:

  • Removed the expiration of benefits for those who served on or after Jan.1, 2013.
  • Changed the way Post-9/11 GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance is calculated.
  • Expanded Yellow Ribbon Program eligibility to include Purple Heart recipients.
  • Established the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship and improved the attendance verification process for scholarship recipients.
  • Proration of the entitlement charge for licensing, certifications, and national exams.

To communicate these important changes and provide updates throughout the implementation process to GI Bill students, VA conducted extensive communication and outreach campaigns. This included email, toolkits and focus groups, as well as social media campaigns reaching more than 910,000 stakeholders, and a nine-state, 24-stop nationwide School Tour. Through these efforts, VA met GI Bill students, school administrators, and other stakeholders to not only communicate changes, but gather feedback on how to improve the GI Bill experience.

The “go-live” of Colmery Act IT updates ultimately changes the way VBA interfaces with Veterans by delivering accurate and accessible benefits. As VA Chief Information Officer James Gfrerer said, “This milestone is an important step in our digital transformation journey, merging people, process, and technology to provide better customer service for our nation’s Veterans.” Through improved processing times, rapid response to legislation, and fewer manual work arounds, this integrated solution allows VA to better serve Veterans in pursuit of their education and career goals. [Source: Vantage Point | Terry Warren | December 4, 2020 ++]

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VA Secretary

Update 92: IG Charges for Wilkie Prosecution Never Filed

Inspector general told prosecutors VA Secretary Wilkie may have engaged in criminal conduct: report

Federal prosecutors were notified by the inspector general (IG) of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs this year about a possible criminal violation committed by Secretary Robert Wilkie related to alleged efforts to discredit a sexual assault victim. The Washington Post reported 9 DEC that while charges were never filed because prosecutors believed that not enough evidence could be found to convict Wilkie, the secretary was nevertheless referred for possible criminal prosecution by the inspector general over allegations that he attempted to publicly disparage the credibility of Navy veteran Andrea Goldstein, a policy adviser to Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), after she reported being groped by an unidentified man at a VA facility.

The referral was a result of Inspector General Michael Missal’s investigation, launched in February, into claims raised by Takano that Wilkie had potentially interfered in the investigation into Goldstein’s assault and lied to IG officials during their own investigation. He was also accused of directing a public affairs official at the VA to spread the idea to reporters that Goldstein had possibly made up her attack. At issue was Wilkie’s apparent belief that the assault, and news of the investigation, was part of a shadowy effort by Takano and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to publicly damage his or the agency’s image, a former VA official told the Post. “He believed it was a left-wing conspiracy led by Pelosi,” the official said.

Wilkie denied that he had done anything improper in the course of the investigation into Goldstein’s assault in a statement to the Post. The inspector general declined to comment on the investigation. “After nearly a year of investigation, interviews with 65 people and analysis of nearly 1.5 million documents, VA’s inspector general cannot substantiate that I sought to investigate or asked others to investigate the Veteran. That’s because these allegations are false,” said Wilkie.

The American Legion and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on 12 DEC joined other veterans’ groups in calling for Wilkie’s ouster, including AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Modern Military Association of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The diverse array of groups that have spoken out speak to wide-ranging discontent with news that spans different eras and political leanings within the veteran community.

Pelosi said in a statement, “The VA Inspector General report makes clear that Secretary Wilkie engaged in an extremely disturbing cover-up campaign of sexual assault against a veteran. Secretary Wilkie has not only been derelict in his duty to combat sexual harassment, but has been complicit in the continuation of a VA culture that tolerates this epidemic. He has lost the trust and confidence to serve, and he must immediately resign. This case and the misconduct that followed are part of a broader, well-documented crisis of violence against women who serve.” [Source: The Hill & USA Today | John Bowden | December 9 & 13, 2020 ++]

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VA Secretary

Update 93: President-elect Biden’s Choice Gets Mixed Response

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of an Obama administration insider with no military or health care background to head the Department of Veterans Affairs has been met with a mix of qualified support, non-commitment, and stunned disappointment by veterans groups. The two largest veterans service organizations, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, reserved judgment on Denis McDonough, former White House chief of staff, to head the VA. Biden announced 10 DEC that McDonough was his nominee. If confirmed, McDonough would be only the second non-veteran to serve in the post, after Trump VA Secretary David Shulkin.

Chanin Nuntavong, the American Legion’s executive director of government affairs, said in a phone interview that the Legion “looks forward to working with whoever is VA secretary” and developing “a good partnership,” but added that McDonough still had to make it through Senate confirmation. In a statement, the VFW had a similar response: “It remains premature for the VFW to comment on the nomination of Mr. McDonough until he goes through the Senate confirmation process.” Other veterans advocates — some on the record and some privately — expressed disappointment and voiced concerns that Biden had chosen to go with someone he knew well from his White House days, when they’d hoped he would make a statement by naming the first post-9/11 veteran or the first woman to head VA.

Jeremy Butler, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement “Denis McDonough, if confirmed, has an incredibly steep learning curve in front of him.” He said IAVA had stated three criteria for the next person to lead the VA — a veteran, a medical professional and an individual with experience running large bureaucracies. “Denis McDonough arguably meets one of those criteria at best” with his background in dealing with large government agencies from the White House, Butler said.

In a statement, Joe Chenelly, national executive director of the AMVETS veterans service organization, echoed the sentiments. “We were expecting a veteran, maybe a post-9/11 veteran. Maybe a woman veteran. Or maybe a veteran who knows the VA exceptionally well,” Chenelly said. In a later statement 10 DEC, AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown gave qualified support to Biden’s choice and congratulated McDonough. “While we are concerned that this nominee is not a veteran and may not fully understand the Department of Veterans Affairs and its complexities, we are in need of new ideas and leadership,” Brown said. When he announced the pick, Biden said that McDonough would bring to the VA his experience as “a lifelong public servant who has been engaged at the highest level in shaping domestic and foreign policy.”

Those outside the White House who have worked with the 51-year-old McDonough also attested to his character and grasp of veterans issues. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, chief executive officer of the Wounded Warrior Project, said that McDonough used his White House positions to help address complex issues facing military service members, veterans, and their families, bringing a whole-of-government approach to issues facing the Department of Defense and VA. “Having spent time with Mr. McDonough in Afghanistan in 2009, and again in the Pentagon between 2013 and 2015, it’s clear he cares deeply for this critical work” at the VA, Linnington said in a statement.

Philip Carter, an Iraq veteran, adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, and former military and veterans issues analyst at the Center for a New American Security, also praised McDonough’s character and abilities. “I’ve known [McDonough] almost 15 years,” Carter said in a Twitter post. “He’s a crisis-tested public servant who has worked at the highest levels, and knows [better than almost anyone] how to effectively pull the levers of government to support & serve veterans and their families.” “Denis was always there for service members, veterans, and their families. He led/managed and delivered results — from post-9/11 GI Bill to Joining Forces to veteran homelessness,” Carter added. Biden’s selection bypassed several candidates who’d been publicly championed for the job.

  • The main union at the VA, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 260,000 of the more than 390,000 VA workers, had lobbied for the nomination of former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq veteran and former undersecretary of the Army. In a 17 NOV Twitter post, the AFGE said “it’s long past time we had a VA Secretary that understands veterans and those who care for them every day. And there couldn’t be anyone better for the job than Patrick Murphy.”
  • Others in the veterans community had mentioned the possibility that Biden might choose Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), an Iraq veteran and combat amputee also believed to have been on Biden’s short list for Defense Secretary before he nominated retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin.
  • Another outside possibility for VA secretary was W. Scott Gould, a former Navy captain and deputy secretary at the VA in the Obama administration. Gould is married to Michele Flournoy, who was widely expected to be tapped for defense secretary before Biden chose Austin for the job.

Since his time in the White House, McDonough has been teaching public policy at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. R. Scott Appleby, dean of the Keough School, called McDonough, an “outstanding role model of an American patriot who cares deeply about advancing human dignity globally and here at home.” A Stillwater, Minnesota, native, McDonough has attributed his public service to the values he learned from playing safety on the football teams coached by Hall of Fame legend John Gagliardi at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota.

When he died in 2018, McDonough spoke at the funeral. “There’s thousands of young men who came through St. John’s and were able to do things because of the lessons they learned from John,” McDonough said. “And whether that was a lesson about perseverance, or clarity of thought, or the remarkable marriage and love story he had with his wife and the way he honored his wife,” he said. “These are lessons we all took.” [Source: Military.com | Richard Sisk | December 11, 2020 ++]

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VA Telehealth Program

Update 21: AT&T Added to VA Video Connect

Veterans using the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA Video Connect app on their mobile phones through AT&T’s cellular network will no longer incur data charges when using this video telehealth technology to connect and meet with their VA health care providers and teams. AT&T joins T-Mobile, TracFone by Safelink and Verizon in supporting Veterans’ ability to video conference with their VA care providers on their smartphone, tablet or computer from any location with an internet connection. “More Veterans are increasingly utilizing VA telehealth services,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA and AT&T are working together to ensure health care continues to be accessible and convenient for Veterans regardless of where they live.”

The agreement between VA and AT&T was facilitated by the VA Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships and is part of the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere initiative ensuring Veterans have the best telehealth experience. In fiscal year 2020 Veterans attended more than 3.8 million video telehealth appointments from their homes, representing an increase of more than 1200% when compared to fiscal year 2019. For more information on VA’s telehealth services, visit connectedcare.va.gov. [Source: VA News Release | December 14, 2020 ++]

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VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse

Reported 01 thru 15 DEC 2020

Gavel

Fort Worth, TX – The owner of a for-profit trade school has been charged with defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and student veterans, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox. Jonathan Dean Davis, the 43 year-old owner of Retail Ready Career Center, was indicted 18 NOV on seven counts of wire fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and four counts of money laundering. Mr. Davis voluntarily surrendered and made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Rebecca Rutherford Monday.

According to the indictment, Mr. Davis owned and operated Retail Ready Career Center, Inc., a for-profit corporation that marketed its six-week HVAC training course to veterans, whose tuition and fees would be covered by the Veteran’s Educational Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the post-911 GI Bill. In order to receive GI Bill approval and funding from the VA, Mr. Davis allegedly lied to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), the Texas Veterans’ Commission (TVC), and the VA, stating that Retail Ready had been continuously operating as an educational institution for at least two years, when in truth, Retail Ready had never trained any students. He also certified that there were no criminal or civil actions against him, when in fact he was facing a criminal charge and multiple civil judgements. He also mislead a CPA and lied to the TWC, the TVC, and the VA about Retail Ready’s financial condition.

Mr. Davis allegedly concealed Retail Ready’s fraudulently-obtained VA approval from veteran applicants, to whom he also allegedly misrepresented graduates’ career prospects. Mr. Davis typically charged the VA $18,000 to $21,000 per student-veteran per course. In total, he received over $71 million in GI Bill benefits from the VA. The indictment alleges that Mr. Davis used the proceeds from his fraud to purchase a home on Lake Forest Drive, in Dallas, Texas, a Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari 488, and Bentley Continental GT. An indictment is merely an allegation of criminal conduct, not evidence. Like all defendants, Mr. Davis is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If convicted, he faces up to 184 years in federal prison. [Source: DoJ Northern District of Texas | U.S. Attorney’s Office | November 23, 2020 ++]

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Asheville, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced today that John Paul Cook, 57, of Alexander, N.C. is facing multiple federal charges for defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) by receiving veteran benefits based on fraudulent service-connected disabilities. According to allegations contained in the federal indictment, Cook enlisted in the United States Army (the Army) in November 1985. The indictment alleges that six months later Cook sustained an accidental injury while on duty. Following the incident, Cook complained that as a result of the accident and injuries he sustained, a preexisting eye condition had worsened. In 1987, following a medical evaluation, Cook was discharged, placed on the retired list, and began receiving VA disability-based compensation at a rate of 60%.

Over the next 30 years, Cook’s disability-based compensation increased, following Cook’s repeated false claims of increased visual impairment and unemployability due to “severe visual deficit.” The indictment alleges that, in 2005, based on Cook’s claims of severe visual impairment, Cook was declared legally blind and began receiving disability-based compensation at a maximum rate. Cook also began to receive additional benefits, including Special Monthly Compensation (an extra monetary allowance paid to a qualifying veteran due to the severity of his disability), Specially Adapted Housing (a grant that goes toward paying for adaptations in a new home), and Special Housing Adaptation (a grant that goes toward remodeling an existing home). According to allegations in the indictment, Cook’s monthly VA disability payments in 1987 were $1,411 per month. With the increases in his disability rating, as well as cost-of-living adjustments and his Special Monthly Compensation, these payments steadily increased over the years. By 2016, the monthly payment had risen to $3,990. In total, from 1987 through 2017, Cook received approximately $978,138 in VA disability payments due to his claimed blindness, to which he was not lawfully entitled.

The indictment alleges that, contrary to Cook’s filed claims with the VA for additional disability claims and his complaints of increased visual impairment, Cook repeatedly passed vision screening tests to renew or obtain a driver’s license in North and South Carolina. The indictment further alleges that, during the relevant time period, Cook purchased and registered over 30 different motor vehicles which Cook routinely drove, including on long-distance trips, to perform errands, and to drive to medical appointments. As alleged in the indictment, from 2010 to 2016, during a time period that Cook was receiving maximum VA disability benefits for his visual impairment, Cook was actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), including serving as a Den Leader and a Cubmaster. Among the courses the defendant completed with the BSA were courses qualifying him to be a range officer for BB guns and for archery. He was also certified for land navigation, which involves reading maps and using a compass.

The indictment alleges that, in addition to the fraudulently obtained disability benefits for visual impairment, Cook also defrauded the VA’s Beneficiary Travel Program, after filing multiple false claims for mileage reimbursement in connection with his medical appointments. The VA terminated Cook’s blindness-related disability payments in October 2017. The federal criminal indictment charges Cook with one count of stealing from the VA, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; three counts of making false statements in connection with obtaining VA disability payments, which carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, per count; and three counts of a making false claims for travel benefits from the VA, which carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, per count.

The indictment also contains a Notice of Forfeiture seeking a money judgement in the amount of $978,138, which is the amount constituting the proceeds of Cook’s alleged fraudulent conduct. The charges contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. [Source: DoJ Western District of North Carolina | U.S. Attorney’s Office | December 2, 2020 ++]

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Asheville, N.C. – A Nevada judge sentenced a Michigan woman 4 DEC to three years in prison for a $1.7 million fraud scheme against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Claudia Ann Merill, 62, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in January, according to federal court records. Senior U.S. District Judge James Mahan also sentenced Merill to three years of supervised release and ordered her to forfeit the funds stolen and pay the VA an additional $1.7 million in restitution.

“The defendant orchestrated a million-dollar scheme to defraud the VA and to deceive the elderly veterans and surviving spouses whose names she used,” Nevada U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich said in a statement. “As part of the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, our office and our partners are committed to safeguarding our seniors and prosecuting those who take advantage of them.”

From Jan. 1, 2014, through Oct. 1, 2019, Merill approached elderly veterans and surviving spouses and falsely told them they were eligible for VA benefits, court records show. Merrill then offered to fill out applications for them and persuaded them to sign blank application forms and provide identification documents. She submitted the false applications for Veterans Pension and Aid and Attendance benefits in their names, records show.

As part of the scheme, Merrill also altered medical records so that the beneficiaries would appear to be eligible for the benefits. She then directed benefit payments into her own bank accounts without informing them. In one case, Merrill sued a veteran, demanding that he pay Merrill the proceeds of her fraudulent scheme. The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office of inspector general and the FBI. [Source: Las Vegas Review Journal | Briana Erickson | December 4, 2020 ++]

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Newark, N.J. – A Florida attorney on 1 DEC admitted his role in a scheme to extort $7.5 million from a California bank, Attorney for the United States Rachael A. Honig announced. Richard L. Williams, 73, of Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to an information charging him with conspiracy to transmit an interstate communication with the intent to extort. According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Beginning in May 2020, Williams and his client (Client-1) conspired to extort $7.5 million from a commercial bank headquartered in California (Bank-1). Williams threatened Bank-1 that if it did not pay Client-1 $7.5 million, Client-1 would publicly disclose that Client-1 had accessed and obtained certain confidential data from the bank that did not belong to Client-1 and that Client-1 was not authorized to retain. On June 18, 2020, Williams sent an email to an attorney for Bank-1 that attached a proposed agreement that Bank-1 had not requested. The agreement – titled “Settlement, Assistance, and Confidentiality Agreement” – provided for Bank-1 to pay Client-1 approximately $7.5 million as a “settlement, assistance and confidentiality fee” within 48 hours of signing the agreement. The payment was purportedly in exchange for Client-1 serving for one week as an “advisor” to Bank-1, a service that Bank-1 had not requested, and agreeing not to publicize confidential Bank-1 data that Client-1 had accessed and obtained. The agreement was designed to conceal that Williams and Client-1 were extorting Bank-1.

From July through August 2020, Williams also engaged in a series of telephone conversations with an undercover law enforcement agent (UC-1) who Williams believed was a representative of Bank-1 located in New Jersey, with authority to transfer funds to Williams. During a telephone call with UC-1 on July 24, 2020, Williams warned UC-1 that if Bank-1 did not pay Client-1 it should “fear” that Client-1 might reveal to various third parties that Client-1 had accessed and obtained the confidential data from Bank-1 or issue a press release disclosing that information. Williams also implied that if Bank-1 refused to accede to his demands and pay Client-1, there may be violent consequences from third parties unrelated to Williams. Williams warned UC-1 that “FBI agents were murdered a couple of blocks from where [he was] sitting,” and that if Williams were in Bank-1’s position, “what would scare the [expletive] out of [him] would be” the reaction of those third parties to the public revelation of Client-1’s access and retention of the data.

The charge to which Williams pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross grain or loss from the offense, whichever is greater. Williams’s sentencing is scheduled for April 6, 2021. [Source: DoJ Western District of New Jersey | U.S. Attorney’s Office | December 1, 2020 ++]

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Ocala, FloridaMiller Wilson, Jr. (50, Sparr), his daughter, Myoshi Wilson (26, Citra), and his ex-wife, Erica Wilson (43, Ocala) were sentenced 8 DEC by Senior United States District Judge James D. Whittemore for their roles in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care benefits. Each had previously pleaded guilty.

  • Miller Wilson, Jr. was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud and solicitation and receipt of a health care kickback.
  • Erica Wilson was sentenced to 5 years’ probation for conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud.
  • Myoshi Wilson was re-sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment, followed by 30 months of supervised release, including 6 months’ home confinement, for a violation of probation. Myoshi Wilson had previously been sentenced to 5 years’ probation for making false statements to law enforcement. She was arrested on a violation of that probationary sentence on November 4, 2020.

According to court documents, Miller Wilson, Jr. was an employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) Clinic located in The Villages. As part of his employment, he provided transportation arrangements for veterans needing medical treatment. From 2014 through 2016, Miller Wilson, Jr. obtained cash kickbacks from the transportation vendors in exchange for awarding them health care contracts from the VA. Thereafter, from 2016-2017, Miller Wilson, Jr. conspired with Erica and Myoshi Wilson to open and manage two different transportation companies to conduct similar schemes. Miller Wilson, Jr. used his official position at the VA to funnel health care contracts to the companies that he had formed with Erica and Myoshi Wilson. During a 17-month period, the two companies billed the federal government $305,673. Myoshi Wilson admitted to making false statements to a federal agent in 2019, to conceal the conspiracy.

“VA employees are public servants with a solemn duty to care for our nation’s veterans,” said David Spilker, Special Agent in Charge of the VA OIG’s Southeast Field Office. “The sentencing of these three defendants demonstrates the VA OIG’s commitment to holding accountable anyone who abuses their position to enrich themselves. [Source: DoJ Middle District of Florida | U.S. Attorney’s Office | December 8, 2020 ++]

* Vets *

Vet Unemployment

Update 27: November Increase to 6.3%

Veterans unemployment rose in November even as the national jobless rate declined, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate among all veterans rose to 6.3 percent last month, up from 5.5 percent in October. That figure translates into about 552,000 veterans looking for employment last month, out of roughly 8.7 million working-age veterans who are able to work. Similarly, the rate among Iraq and Afghanistan War era veterans — who make up the largest percentage of veterans in the American workforce today — rose from 6.2 percent in October to 6.9 percent in November. Unemployment among the earlier generation of veterans (Gulf War era) declined from 5.3 percent in October to 4.7 percent.

Even with the increase, the overall veterans jobless rate remains better than the national figure. The month veterans estimate has only been higher than the national rate once in the last four years. Among all U.S. workers, the unemployment rate fell from 6.9 percent in October to 6.7 percent in November. It’s more than double what it was one year ago, before the coronavirus concerns prompted partial quarantines across the country and forced thousands of businesses into furloughs and layoffs. The national unemployment rate rose as high as 14.7 percent this spring because of the pandemic, but has now declined each of the last seven months.

However, BLS officials reported on 4 DEC that the number of long-term unemployed Americans (individuals who have been looking for work for 27 weeks or more) rose again in November, to about 3.9 million. That’s more than a third of the entire unemployed population. In past years, November and December have usually meant lower unemployment estimates as more Americans find part-time, seasonal work. Given the ongoing pandemic, it’s unclear if federal researchers will see the same increases. At least 14.2 million Americans have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the outbreak in this country last spring. More than 276,000 have died from complications related to the virus. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Leo Shane III | December 4, 2020 ++]

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Operation September Freedom

Free Vintage Flight for 1,000 WWII Vets

About 1,000 World War II veterans will have the opportunity to fly in a 1930s-era aircraft during a two-month span in 2021, according to the nonprofit group conducting the campaign. Dreams Flights announced 7 DEC that its Operation September Freedom campaign will send its fleet of six open-cockpit Stearman biplanes to cities across the country to take veterans on a free, 20-minute flight. “It literally is life changing for them,” said Darryl Fisher, founder and president of Dream Flights, formerly known as the Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation. “This is like a time machine.”

The flights will take place between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, and a World War II veteran can be registered for a flight until June 1, Fisher said. Then the group will coordinate its fleet to go to that veteran’s town and take them on a flight. “It’s very difficult for them to travel long distances,” he said. “That also means that something like this is really meaningful to them, so we have to go to them.” Fisher, who works in the senior living facility industry, founded Dream Flights in 2011 to combine his passion for caring for the elderly with his passion for flying. A third-generation aviator, one of the Stearmans in his fleet was purchased by Fisher’s grandfather after the end of World War II to help support his farm. Stearman biplanes had a rugged construction that made them ideal for training new pilots for the Army Air Corps and Navy, according to the website for Boeing, whose Stearman Aircraft Division out of Wichita, Kan., first introduced the aircraft in 1934. In the case of Fisher’s grandfather, the planes were also popular as crop-dusters because of its ability fly low and slow.

Since 2011, Dream Flights has flown 4,204 veterans and seniors living in retirement and long-term care communities. Operation September Freedom is the first tour dedicated to honoring a group of veterans who served during a particular war. The oldest flight participant flown by Dream Flights was 104, Fisher said. Pilots for the nonprofit primarily fly for major airlines and are active-duty or retired service members who volunteer their time. As part of the campaign, Dream Flight crews will rendezvous at the 50th National Stearman Fly-in in Galesburg, Ill., on 6 SEP to fly in formation for the crowd. “[Operation September Freedom] will be the largest barnstorming event in history,” Fisher said. “Wherever World War II veterans are located, we’ll find our way to their nearest airport and create a moment of magic they can relive until their last days.”

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, an estimated 100,000 will be alive in 2021 — the youngest will be 95 years old, according to Dream Flights. While next year’s event has sponsors, including SportClips, American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, Argentum, DirectSupply, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Airlines, the group is seeking donations to help with the upkeep of its Stearman fleet and pay for travel for its volunteers, Fisher said. “We’re asking all Americans to join our effort to locate members of the Greatest Generation so we can thank them one last time for their service,” he said. Dream Flight requests for World War II veterans are accepted at http://dreamflights.org/honor. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Rose L. Thayer | December 7, 2020 ++]

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WW2 Chinese American Vets

20,000 Honored By Congress

https://www.armytimes.com/resizer/bt8BjZ6or1Sla4il3Aumy34msSs=/1200x0/filters:quality(100)/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/mco/I54E4Z4UMJFFJFF7EBBE3TZIGM.jpg

Staff Sgt. Lewis Woo Yee (left) of Houston and 1st Lt. Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo right) accept Congressional Gold Medals during a virtual ceremony broadcast from Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.

Seventy-five years after World War II ended, Congress is honoring thousands of Chinese Americans who served the United States in the war, earning citations for heroism — including the Medal of Honor — despite discrimination that included limits on numbers allowed in the U.S. Nearly 20,000 people of Chinese ancestry served in the U.S. military during World War II, including about 40 percent who were not U.S. citizens due to laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act. That law made it illegal for Chinese laborers to immigrate to America and limited the Chinese population in the U.S. for more than 60 years.

Chinese Americans served in all major branches of the military, including the so-called Flying Tigers, the 14th Air Service that flew missions in the China-Burma-India Theater. For their service to the nation during the war, Chinese-American veterans were honored at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony 9 DEC “Despite coming from different backgrounds, Chinese-American service members fought alongside their fellow Americans with a shared love for their country,’’ said Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Chinese Americans “flew bomber missions over Europe, served on our ships in the Pacific, stormed the beaches of Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate Central Europe,’’ Takano said during an online ceremony Wednesday. The ceremony was originally scheduled in April but postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. “With this honor, we are telling a more complete story of the people who fought for the United States during World War II and the personal and systemic challenges they faced,’’ Takano said.

Among those honored posthumously were former U.S. Sens. Hiram Fong and Daniel Akaka, both of Hawaii. Fong, a Republican, served in the Army Air Force, while Akaka, a Democrat, was in the Army Corps of Engineers, stationed in the Northern Mariana Islands. Army Capt. Francis B. Wai, who was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award given by the United States, also was recognized as a Gold Medal recipient. He was killed while saving fellow soldiers during an attack in the Philippines. One of those honored was Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, whose nursing studies in Hong Kong were interrupted when the U.S. entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Born in California and now 102, she served as a nurse in China and India. “About that time, the U.S. Army also came through, desperately needing English-speaking nurses,” she told KHON-TV in Hawaii in an interview last month. Chin enlisted. “I was the only Chinese-American nurse stationed there back then. Sometimes a smallpox case that nobody wanted to handle happened. I would be the target for cases like that,” she said. She and other Chinese Americans “answered the call to duty when our country faced threats to our freedom,” Chin said in a videotaped presentation at Wednesday’s ceremony. “We have waited a long time for this moment. I hope our perseverance and our commitment and hard work will further inspire our young people to serve this wonderful country.” [Source: The Associated Press | Matthew Daly | December 9, 2020 ++]

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WWI Vet 14

Samuel Woodfill | Sgt. York’s Rival

President Calvin Coolidge & Woodfill (left) and Woodfill (right) carrying the Unknown Soldier to his tomb

Army Maj. Samuel Woodfill was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I. He was a modest man who was known for his excellent marksmanship, but it was his bravery in taking out several machine gun nests during a 1918 battle that earned him fame and the Medal of Honor. Woodfill was born Jan. 6, 1883, near Madison, Indiana. Growing up in a rural area, he watched his father — a Mexican-American and Civil War vet — and older brothers hunt. At first, he was too young to go with them, but by age 10, he started sneaking a gun out of the house to shoot small game. The Indiana Historical Bureau said Woodfill’s father was impressed when he found out. Instead of punishing the boy, Woodfill’s father let him hunt whenever he wanted.

Woodfill tried to join the military when he was 15 so he could fight in the Spanish-American War, but he was turned down. He waited a few more years and was finally accepted into the Army when he turned 18 in 1901. Woodfill was shipped to the Philippines to serve until about 1904 when he volunteered for duty in Alaska. That’s where he honed his marksmanship skills, hunting large game in the untamed wilderness. After Alaska, Woodfill served for about two years at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, before being sent to Texas to defend the Mexican border. He returned to Fort Thomas in 1917 and became an officer after being promoted to second lieutenant. By then, the war in Europe had escalated, so it was pretty clear the U.S. would soon be joining the fight. As Woodfill prepared to deploy with the American Expeditionary Forces, he married his longtime girlfriend, Lorena Wiltshire.

In the fall of 1918, Woodfill and thousands of other American soldiers were sent to France, just as the six-week-long Meuse-Argonne battle was unfolding. Woodfill was quickly promoted to first lieutenant. He was just outside the town of Cunel with his unit, the 60th Infantry, when he went on a sharpshooting tear that is comparable to the exploits of his fellow war hero, the famed Army Sgt. Alvin York. It was Oct. 12, 1918, and Woodfill was advancing with Company M when they came under heavy attack. Since he was in charge of the unit, Woodfill told most of the men to hang back. He and two other soldiers went ahead to find and knock out any enemy machine gun nests.

When they got near the village, Woodfill’s keen eye noticed muzzle flashes coming from a church tower about 300 yards away. According to a curator at the Fort Polk Museum, he aimed his rifle toward where the gunner’s head would be — he couldn’t actually see the person — and fired. The gunner dropped dead. Woodfill repeated that process four more times as new gunners tried to take charge of the unmanned machine gun. He only had five shots in his rifle, and he took out all five gunners who tried. According to his Medal of Honor citation, another enemy soldier charged Woodfill, but Woodfill killed the man with his pistol after a hand-to-hand fight. Turning his sights to a potential gun nest at a stable, Woodfill let off another shot. That machine gun never fired again.

A short distance later, Woodfill crawled into range of a third machine gun nest. At first he took cover in a shell hole, but he got hit with the remains of mustard gas that lingered there, so he made his way to a ditch about 40 yards from the enemy gun, according to the Fort Polk Museum curator. He took out another gunner and the four replacements with his rifle before using his pistol to kill two more men. After shooting a German sniper out of a tree, Woodfill called on the two soldiers with him to rush a fourth machine gun nest. Woodfill killed five of its crew and injured three others, who were taken prisoner. A few minutes later, a fifth machine gun nest came into view. Woodfill charged this one, too, killing five men on one machine gun before jumping into the pit for cover.

According to his citation, two other enemy soldiers turned their guns on him. When Woodfill wasn’t able to shoot, he grabbed a nearby pickaxe and killed them. Thanks to his actions, Company M was able to push on to their objective. Woodfill was evacuated from the battlefield and spent 10 weeks in a hospital recovering from the debilitating effects of the mustard gas. On Feb 9, 1919, famed Army Gen. John Pershing presented Woodfill with the Medal of Honor and promoted him to captain. Pershing praised Woodfill for fighting and not just occupying trenches for months on end.

Woodfill returned to Kentucky and left the Army in November 1919, but he found he wasn’t quite prepared to reenter civilian life, so he rejoined three weeks later. He had to rejoin as a sergeant, meaning he lost the captain’s rank he’d earned during the war. But according to the Indiana Historical Bureau, he didn’t mind. However, when the public learned that the war hero had lost his rank, efforts to appeal the decision were made. They went nowhere. On Nov. 11, 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Arlington National Cemetery. Eight highly decorated WWI veterans handpicked by Pershing escorted the soldier to the burial grounds, and Woodfill was one of them. Woodfill retired from the Army again in 1923, with a pension, but a few years into the Great Depression, he and his wife were struggling. A petition to get the pension increased was denied by Congress.

Woodfill’s wife died in the early days of World War II, so when the Army recalled him to service in 1942, he went, the Indiana Historical Bureau said. He was given special clearance to serve and, at 59, was still an excellent marksman. But he hit the mandatory retirement age of 60 in 1943, so his third bout of service was short-lived. When he again returned to civilian life, he settled back in his home state of Indiana, where he lived until he died on Aug. 10, 1951. Woodfill was initially buried in a local cemetery, but his body was reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery in 1955. His final resting place is beside Pershing, who, according to the Indiana Historical Bureau, once referred to Woodfill as “the greatest single hero in the American Forces.” [Source: DOD News | Katie Lange | October 12, 2020 ++]

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Iraq War Vet 04

Joshua Wheeler | Operation Inherent Resolve Casualty

Joshua Wheeler was born in November 1975 in Roland, Oklahoma, and was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from Muldrow High School in 1994 before enlisting in the Army as an infantryman in 1995. Wheeler completed basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was first assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, with Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment. In February 1997, he transferred to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He served for seven years as a rifle team leader, squad leader, weapons squad leader and anti-tank section leader. While with the 75th Ranger Regiment, Wheeler deployed three times to support combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He deployed multiple other times to the Middle East with U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

In 2015, Wheeler was one of 30 U.S. special operations soldiers who raided an ISIS prison compound in Kirkuk as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. This raid successfully freed 70 hostages, including 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces. During the raid, Wheeler was directing the attack. When enemy fire targeted soldiers inside the compound, he ran towards the gunfire. His actions not only ensured mission success but protected his fellow soldiers and allied Kurdish fighters. Wheeler died Oct. 22, 2015, from enemy fire during the raid. He was the first American soldier killed in action fighting against the Islamic State during a commando raid in Iraq. Wheeler posthumously received a Silver Star and Purple Heart. He earned 11 Bronze Star Medals throughout his career, including four with Valor Devices.

On May 30, 2016, then-President Barack Obama remembered Wheeler in a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. “As a kid, Josh was the one who made sure his brother and four half-sisters were dressed and fed and off to school. When there wasn’t food in the cupboard, he grabbed his hunting rifle and came back with a deer for dinner. When his country needed him, he enlisted in the Army at age 19.” Obama stated. The president spoke of him as a man who came from nothing yet managed to make something of himself. Wheeler is survived by his wife, Ashley, and four sons. Before his final deployment, he left notes for his unborn son in the books he read. We honor his service. [Source: Vantage Point | Adrienne Brookstein | November 13, 2020 ++]

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WWII Vet 241

Robert Feller | Renowned Cleveland Indians Pitcher

Robert “Bob” William Andrew Feller was a renowned pitcher for the Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1941 and from 1945 to 1956. During his 18 seasons, he pitched 3,827 innings with a win-loss record of 266-162. He pitched 279 complete games, 44 shutouts and had a 3.25 earned run average. He was an eight-time All-Star and helped the Indians win the 1948 World Series. Baseball great Ted Williams called Feller “the fastest and best pitcher I ever saw during my career.” Feller most likely would have boosted the Indians’ scoreboard even more, except for America’s entry into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.

After learning of the attack, Feller, then 23, decided that the right thing to do would be to serve. “The last thing on my mind right then was playing baseball. I immediately decided to enlist in the United States Navy,” he said decades later. “People today don’t understand, but that’s the way we felt in those days. We wanted to join the fighting.” On Dec. 9, 1941, he gave up the chance to earn $100,000 with the Indians and became the first professional athlete to join the Navy after Pearl Harbor. In 1942, after basic training, Feller was stationed at Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia. He found time there to pitch for the base’s Bluejackets baseball team, which went 92-8 that year. Feller then served as a gun captain on the battleship USS Alabama. In 1943, they sailed in the North Atlantic in support of combat operations in Europe.

In August 1943, they departed for the Pacific Theater. During that time through the spring of 1944, the Alabama served as a carrier task force escort, protecting the carriers from surface and air attacks. The ship also bombarded Japanese positions, fought off enemy aircraft, and, in some cases, supported amphibious landings on Betio, Makin, Nauru, Kwajalein, Roi-Namur, Truk, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Palau, Yap, Ulithi, Woleai and other islands. The Alabama then took part in the Philippines campaign from September through December 1944, including providing support for the landing at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in October 1944 and operations against Japanese-occupied Taiwan.

On 17 DEC, while the fleet was refueling at sea, Typhoon Cobra swept through the area, battering the fleet. Heavy seas caused the ship to roll up to 30 degrees and the typhoon was responsible for sinking three other destroyers in the task force, though the Alabama emerged with only minor damage. In January 1945, the Alabama departed the Western Pacific for an overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington, ending Feller’s combat tour. He spent the rest of the war at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Illinois, as an instructor. Feller also found time to manage the installation’s baseball program, and he even pitched for the team. Feller was honorably discharged as a chief petty officer on Aug. 22, 1945. He missed three full seasons and most of a fourth during World War II.

After his return to baseball he again led the league in strikeouts from 1946 through 1948, throwing 348, 196, and 194 strikeouts, respectively, in those years. In 1948, as a member of the most-storied team in franchise history, Feller also played a pivotal role in the Indians winning the World Series. He pitched three no-hit games, the first pitcher in the 20th century to do so, in 1940, 1946, and 1951. In his career he pitched 12 one-hit games. After retiring in 1956, Feller continued to travel extensively to promote professional baseball, and he served briefly as a TV broadcaster for the Indians. An eight-time career all-star, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 2010, Feller died at age 92. [Source: DOD News | David Vergun | October 27, 2020 ++]

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Military Retirees & Veterans Events Schedule

As of 15 DEC 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.

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 | December 15, 2020 ++]

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Vet Hiring Fairs

Scheduled As of 16 DEC 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 https://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 | December 15, 2020 ++]

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State Veteran Benefits

Vermont 2020

The state of Vermont provides several benefits to veterans as indicated below. To obtain information on these plus discounts listed on the Military and Veterans Discount Center (MCVDC) website, refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Vet State Benefits – VT” for an overview of the below benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. For a more detailed explanation of each of the below refer to http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/location/vermont.html & http://veterans.vermont.gov:

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

[Source: https://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/vermont-state-veterans-benefits.html | December 2020 ++]

* Vet Legislation *

capitol-hill-600x400

VA Medical Marijuana

Update 71: H.R.3884 | MORE Act of 2020

The House of Representatives passed a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act passed the House with a vote of 228-164. Criminal Defense Attorney McCracken Poston said “The Federal Government cannot dictate state laws, however it should have a huge impact on what is happening, a growing number of states that are decriminalizing or outright legalizing small amounts of marijuana,” Fifteen states, two territories, and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis and some are capitalizing on it. Poston said it may cause a snowball effect in Tennessee and Georgia.

“I think there would be an increasingly new mindset happening at the state level if the federal government was no longer leading the charge and they see several states around them actually cutting out a lot of the criminal activity, taxing things,” Poston said. The bill would remove marijuana from the Federal Controlled Substances Act and clear the way to erase non-violent federal marijuana convictions. The MORE Act allows veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from Veterans Affairs doctors. The bill also makes other changes, including the following:

  • Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • Requires the bureau of labor statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
  • Makes small business administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction),
  • Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses, and
  • Directs the government accountability office to study the societal impact of cannabis legalization.

If the bill is eventually signed into law, it does not mean marijuana is legal. “But there will be little or no penalty, perhaps civil penalties for the violation, and it doesn’t affect large amounts,” Poston said. If states decriminalize, Poston said a lot of past convictions will need to be addressed. “To clear people of these issues that haunt them to this day. There could be some parallel provisions on amending people’s criminal records,” Poston said. He said other legislation will probably follow.

“There probably should be some type of additional legislation to deal with addiction,” Poston said. The Senate will also have to pass the legislation presented without any changes and the President has to sign it, too. [Source: NBC News | 3 WRBCtv | December 4, 2020++]

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VA Mental Health Care

Update 42: S.2864/H.R.5324 | Veterans Network of Support Act of 2019

https://www.jta.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/7-25-19-somers.jpg https://www.jta.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/7-25-19-somers2.jpeg

Howard and Jean Somers testify about their son Daniel’s suicide before a U.S. House Committee hearing about the Veterans Affairs’ mental health care procedures, July 10, 2014. (left) and Sgt Daniel Somers (right)

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s bill aimed at expanding access to mental health services to veterans returning to civilian life was signed into law on 7 DEC. The bipartisan bill, the Sgt. Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to pilot a program that creates networks of support for service members transitioning to civilian life. It allows active duty service members to designate up to 10 family and friends to receive information from the VA on benefits and services. “This means that as these veterans disconnect from service and return to civilian life, they have a network of support helping them adjust to what could be a very difficult transition,” Sinema told KTAR News 92.3 FM last week.

According to a press release, the hope is that by directly engaging veterans’ loved ones they can help equip families to better understand the transition from service to civilian life, notice when veterans are struggling and ensure they have the necessary tools to help veterans get assistance. The act is named after Sgt. Daniel Somers, an Arizona Army veteran who lost his life to suicide in 2013 after he had served two tours in Iraq. Somers was diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD when he returned home. The latest piece of legislation builds on a previous Network of Support Act that Sinema introduced and passed in last year’s annual defense authorization bill. That bill requires the Department of Defense to create networks of support for service members entering the military. [Source: KTAR News 92.3 FM | December 7, 2020 ++]

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Women Vet Support

S.514/H.R.3224 | Deborah Sampson Act

What may be the most significant legislative effort for women veterans in the last two years passed out of the Senate this week, one step closer to becoming law. The Deborah Sampson Act, an omnibus bill intended to remove barriers and improve women veterans’ care, passed the House more than a year ago. It was the culmination of years of work for Senate Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Jon Tester, D-Montana, who introduced the original legislation in 2017, as well as the House Women Veterans Task Force, led by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA). Now, after a few changes, it heads back to the House for final approval before it moves to the president’s desk to become law. House Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Phil Roe (R-TN) said the House is expected to vote to send the bill to the president in coming days.

That legislation passed the Senate this week as part of a larger package of veteran legislation, including assistance for homeless and housing insecure veterans, veteran job retraining and a new advisory committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs. The women veterans’ legislation aims to address a range of issues for women veterans — the fastest growing group of veterans numbering roughly 2 million nationwide. Women have served in the United States military in one form or another since the Revolutionary War, but still struggle to access the Department of Veterans Affairs care and benefits they’ve earned. Veterans Affairs lawmakers on Capitol Hill have made legislating on their behalf a focus over the last few years, especially as VA statistics show that women who receive care at VA have lower risk of suicide and other health concerns than those who don’t. The Deborah Sampson Act includes measures to:

  • Establish a systemwide comprehensive policy to end gender-based harassment and sexual harassment and assault at VA, including training for employees;
  • Staff each VA healthcare facility with a dedicated women’s health primary care provider;
  • Creates a dedicated Office of Women’s Health at VA;
  • Retrofit VA facilities to enhance privacy and improve care environments for women vets;
  • Expand eligibility for military sexual trauma counseling to Guard and Reserve veterans;
  • Improve the claims process for MST survivors at VBA;
  • Expand child care for veterans receiving VA care;
  • Permanently authorize PTSD counseling for women veterans in retreat-style settings;
  • Provide gender-specific healthcare equipment such as mammography machines at each VA medical center;
  • Establish and improve care standards for women at VA;
  • Provide more funding for women veteran programs;
  • Provide extended care for newborns;
  • Expands call center services for women veterans;
  • Require a Government Accountability Office report on homeless or at-risk women veterans;
  • Study, pilot program and task force to examine intimate partner violence and sexual assault against women veterans;
  • Require more reporting on women veterans’ services and benefits.

“This is an historic step forward for women veterans across the nation, as well as their families, caregivers and survivors,” said Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Women Veterans Task Force, instrumental in crafting the legislation. “We must provide all veterans the care and benefits they have earned and deserve—which requires providing equity to women veterans. I am so proud that by passing this legislation, we are telling our women veterans: you are not invisible.”

Tester, another key lawmaker behind the legislative effort, called it a “groundbreaking moment” as Congress pushes VA to provide better care for the nearly 2 million American women veterans. “Women have served in uniform since the American Revolution and are now the fastest growing population of veterans in the country,” Tester said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure VA health care and benefits are tailored to meet their needs and are accessible to them and their families. Unanimous passage of my Deborah Sampson Act — and of the entire legislative package — sends a clear message that Congress is willing to come together to do what’s necessary and follow through on our responsibility to support all veterans.”

The bill’s passage through Congress comes in the midst of a scathing report from VA’s independent watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General, released Thursday. A nearly yearlong investigation found that Secretary Robert Wilkie and senior VA officials sought to discredit a woman veteran and senior Congressional advisory who reported being sexually assaulted at the Washington, D.C. VA hospital, repeatedly questioning her credibility and failing to properly handle her case. Wilkie had previously been accused of seeking damaging information on the veteran and ordering his staff to shop that information to national media. Wilkie denied allegations against him, and while the OIG could not substantiate that Wilkie investigated, or ordered an investigation of the veteran, it did find he mishandled her case and that he and his staff repeatedly disparaged her.

VA leaders also failed to take action against the man accused of sexually assaulting the veteran. VA police ran a background check on the veteran almost immediately, sharing it with senior leaders, but it took days for them to run the same check on the man accused of the assault — a VA contractor with a history of sexually harassing VA staff, a criminal background and a lack of credentials to be at the hospital the day of the assault.

VA officials have repeatedly downplayed sexual assault in department facilities while vowing to take all incidents seriously, despite veterans and VA staff coming forward to share stories of systemic harassment and assault and a lack of effort from VA leaders to protect them. Federal watchdog reports have found that VA’s sexual harassment policies are “inconsistent and incomplete” and surveys of employees and veterans found that one in four women veterans and VA staff report sexual harassment at the department.

The woman veteran who reported her harassment at the D.C. VA serves as advisor on the House Women Veterans Task Force and said she was carrying an early form of the Deborah Sampson Act in her bag when she was assaulted. On 10 DEC that veteran, Andrea Goldstein, a Naval intelligence officer now serving in the Reserves, said she planned to continue fighting for change. “As a Congressional staffer, woman veteran and Navy officer, I remain dedicated to serving those whose voices have been silenced by those who should protect them,” she said. “Women veterans are amongst the strongest and most resilient people you will ever meet. We are not invisible.” [Source: Connecting Vets | Abbie Bennett | December 11, 2020 ++]

Note: To check status on any veteran related legislation go to https://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 https://docs.house.gov/floor.

* Military *

http://ts2.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4724091579336357&pid=15.1

USS Bonhomme Richard

Update 03: Will Not Return to Sea – Restoration Deemed too Expensive

The USS Bonhomme Richard will not return to sea after the Navy determined that the damage it sustained from a fire in July was too extensive and restoration deemed too expensive, the service announced Monday. “We did not come to this decision lightly,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said in a prepared statement. “Following an extensive material assessment in which various courses of action were considered and evaluated, we came to the conclusion that it is not fiscally responsible to restore her.”

The 22-year-old Bonhomme Richard, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, was undergoing maintenance at Naval Base San Diego when the fire started 12 JUL. The fire burned through 11 of its 14 decks, destroying the ship’s forward mast, and damaging its superstructure before it was extinguished 16 JUL. About 40 sailors and 23 civilians were treated for minor injuries, such as heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. How the fire started is still unknown, however Navy officials at the time believed it began in the cargo hold where supplies for the maintenance work being conducted on the ship were stored at the time. “This fire probably couldn’t have been in a worse point on the ship in terms of its source that allowed it to spread up elevator shafts as an example, up exhaust stacks as an example, to take that fire up into the superstructure and then forward,” Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said about the fire a day after it was put out.

In an email to senior naval leaders soon after Gilday’s visit to the ship, he wrote that sections of the flight deck were warped and bulging and firefighters told him that they had faced 1,200-degree heat, zero visibility and multiple explosions on the ship. Wind from the bay and the explosions allowed the fire to spread and become more intense, he said. Gilday praised the work of sailors in his letter, some of whom went aboard the ship eight times to fight the fire. “They had experienced the intense, inferno-like heat, the dark smoke that obscured view of teammates by their side, and the explosions — the latter had to be like a mine field … unknown when and where, and how severe, those blasts might be. Some had been knocked down by these blasts — some, more than once — but they got up, refocused and reattacked.” All investigations into the fire are still ongoing, according to the Navy’s statement 30 NOV.

The Navy’s assessment of the damage concluded it would cost more than $3 billion to restore the ship and five to seven years for construction to be completed. The service also considered rebuilding the ship for other purposes but again determined the $1 billion cost, which could build a new hospital ship or command and control ship, was too much. “Although it saddens me that it is not cost effective to bring her back, I know this ship’s legacy will continue to live on through the brave men and women who fought so hard to save her, as well as the sailors and Marines who served aboard her during her 22-year history,” Braithwaite said.

When the ship will be dismantled has not been decided, according to the Navy. However before that, the service plans to remove systems and components from the Bonhomme Richard to be used by other ships. The cost of decommissioning the ship will be about $30 million and will take up to a year, according to Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage in a report by The San Diego Union-Tribune. Ver Hage is the commander of Navy Regional Maintenance Center. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Caitlin M. Kenney | November 30, 2020 ++]

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M-240 Machine Gun

New Sound Suppressor Gets Rave Reviews

U.S. Army maneuver officials are testing a new sound suppressor that can quiet the M240 machine gun enough for gunners to easily hear fire commands. The Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning, Georgia has been live-fire testing the suppressor from Maxim Defense during Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) 2021, which began in late October. “Suppressors have always had liability in the past,” said Ed Davis, director of the Battle Lab, who has seen suppressors cycle through the AEWE for the past decade. “This is the first year that I would say most of the Maneuver Center [of Excellence] has gotten excited about a suppressor.”

The Battle Lab is only evaluating the Maxim Defense suppressor during this year’s AEWE. Other suppressors in past tests have not been able to stand up to the heat and roar produced by the 7.62mm M240. “Some of them, they got way too hot and … would glow red hot,” Davis said. “Some of them wouldn’t last very long; most of them really didn’t dampen the noise of any significance that was worthwhile.” Battle Lab officials and soldiers have fired “a fair amount of rounds” through M240s equipped with the Maxim Defense suppressor, enough to put it in the “sweet spot” to recommend it for further evaluation, Davis said. “This may be one that we recommend that a unit buy and do some sort of evaluation long-term,” Davis said. “We do know that with the gun firing, it brings the noise down. … You can fire the M240 and have a conversation right next to it.”

Finding a durable, affordable suppressor that can dampen the sound signature of an M240 would make it more difficult for the enemy to locate and target machine gun teams from a distance, Davis said. The M240 can engage targets as far as 1,100 meters away, “so if you can suppress the noise to that level, that means the position is relatively concealed during employment,” Davis said. “It adds a great degree of protection to your machine gun teams, which are priority targets on the battlefield,” he added. “It also helps you in command and control because now you can give fire commands and so forth without having hearing protection and the voice of the gun causing confusion and things like that.”

When the AEWE concludes in early March, Battle Lab officials will compile a report detailing the performance of equipment tested, which will include recommendations for further study. “Our evaluations for AEWE are not complete by any means,” Davis said, adding that Maxim Defense suppressor could go to a unit for further evaluation. “Or it could come back to the Battle Lab as a separate event for a more comprehensive evaluation,” Davis said. “You want to look at barrel wear, you want to look at how long the suppressor is going to last and you want to see how long it takes to gum these systems up. [Source: Military.com | Matthew Cox | November 28, 2020 ++]

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USMC Drug Problem

Zero Tolerance is the Marine Corps’ Stance

According to its commanding general the East Coast’s 2nd Marine Division has a drug problem. And it may have an LSD problem. The division implemented random LSD testing during the summer due to “recent incidents involving Marines or sailors,” according to a press release published 2 DEC on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. In the past, the Corps would only test individuals for LSD if law enforcement requested it, the release said. “We have a drug problem in the 2d Marine Division,” Maj. Gen. Francis L. Donovan, commanding general for the division, said in a press release.

Roughly 4,000 urinalysis tests for the mind-altering drug have been conducted since the policy changed in the summer, Linfante said. Fewer than half a percent of those tested have popped positive for the drug, Linfante said. Marine Corps Times has asked for clarification on how many 2nd Division Marines have been tested and how many have tested positive for LSD, but half a percent of 4,000 tests would be 20 positive tests. Linfante confirmed 2 DEC that less than 20 Marines have tested positive

Marines abusing drugs is “unfortunately not new,” 1st Lt. Dan Linfante, a division spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in a 2 DEC email. “What’s new here is that the 2d Marine Division is now testing specifically for LSD, along with the many other substances we’ve long tested for – both randomly and in every other way possible.” “We are committed to identifying violators of our ethos,” Donovan said in the press release. “The vast majority of Marines within the 2d Marine Division routinely uphold our core values, and they deserve to know that the Marines to their left and right are doing the same.”

In April 2019, Maj. Gen. David J. Furness, the then commander of the 2nd Marine Division, sent out a policy letter detailing a basic daily routine every Marine in the division was to follow, citing a “significant decline” in discipline. “We have allowed Marines and Sailors to walk around with long hair, nonexistent or poor shaves, unserviceable boots and utilities and improper civilian attire,” the letter read. “There are weeds growing around our building and work spaces and trash everywhere but the dumpsters where it belongs.” “A general lack of attention to detail and corrective action by peers and leaders results in lower discipline and destroys the foundation on which the Marine Corps was built — ironclad discipline.”

Linfante said Tuesday that the change was not due to any serious decline in discipline in the division, but rather a small number of incidents still under investigation. “The vast majority of the 16,000-plus Marines and Sailors in the 2d Marine Division are not only not engaging in substance abuse of any kind, but, more importantly, they are routinely displaying the high standards of professionalism and conduct that we expect of our Marines and Sailors,” Linfante said. A representative for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was unable to comment about ongoing investigations.

In September 2019, Marine Cpl. Andrew Christian Gray was arrested along with 19-year-old Alexia Seely and charged with felony trafficking in LSD by sale, felony trafficking in LSD by deliver, felony trafficking in LSD by manufacture and felony trafficking in LSD by possession, Marine Corps Times previously reported. Gray was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, at the time of his arrest. “Zero tolerance is the Marine Corps’ stance, and Marines need to understand that there is no drug that they can take without the means for government detection,” Lt. Col. Christian Ruwe, the staff judge advocate for the division, said in the press release. [Source: MarineCorpsTimes | Philip Athey | December 1, 2020 ++]

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USMC Retention

Update 02: Tank Marines Get the Chance to Leave the Corps Early

Marines whose jobs are going away as part of a force-wide reorganization that includes getting rid of tanks will get the option to leave the Corps earlier than planned. Enlisted Marines and officers in tank-related military occupational specialties will be eligible for early-out programs, the service announced this week. The programs will allow those in four specialties to leave the Marine Corps early if they desire: armor Marines; senior-armor staff noncommissioned officers; main battle tank repairer/technicians; and tank officers. The move is part of a 10-year force-wide redesign announced by Commandant Gen. David Berger earlier this year. The Marine Corps is folding its tank battalions and getting rid of the heavy-armor vehicles as it prepares for lighter, naval-based missions.

The measures are part of a “surgical reduction in personnel and realignment of specific capabilities and units,” Col. Christopher Escamilla, the branch head for Marine Corps Plans, Programs and Budget, said in the announcement. “These redesign efforts will enable the Marine Corps to reinvest time, money, and resources into higher priority areas, which includes emerging technologies and significant changes in force structure to deliver a Marine Corps the nation needs by 2030,” Escamilla added. Officials did not immediately respond to questions about how many Marines will be eligible for the early-out programs. More details are expected in a forthcoming service-wide message.

Marine officials said in May that about 1,300 personnel would need to move into new fields or other branches of the military if they wished to remain in uniform as their missions are cut. Aside from tankers, some infantry units, bridging companies, law-enforcement missions and aircraft squadrons could also be affected by the changes. Several tank battalions and other units have cased their colors. At least one law enforcement battalion is also preparing to be deactivated this month. The Marine Corps will remain faithful to its personnel and their families by “maximizing opportunities for continued service for those in a military occupation slated for divestment,” Maj. Craig Thomas, a spokesman for the service told Military.com in May.

Tankers approved for the early-out programs won’t be able to separate sooner than one year out from the end of their current service contracts. They must also be eligible for honorable or general under honorable conditions discharges. “Marines approved for this program will be considered to have completed their full active service commitment,” the announcement states, adding that they’ll still be responsible for completing Reserve or Individual Ready Reserve requirements. [Source: Military.com | Gina Harkins | December 6, 2020 ++]

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Air Force Retention

Update 03: Spiked Amid COVID | Now, Retention Bonuses Might Be Cut

Airmen recite the oath of office before transferring into the U.S. Space Force during a ceremony at the Pentagon Sept. 15. About 300 airmen at bases worldwide transferred during the ceremony. Members of the Space Force will not be eligible for a voluntary active-duty service commitment waiver. (Eric Dietrich/Air Force)

A coronavirus-driven spike in retention rates has left the Air Force’s active duty significantly overmanned, and the service is planning to roll out a slate of voluntary separation and retraining programs to rebalance the force. Some retention bonuses airmen have enjoyed in recent years, as the service struggled to recover after devastating cuts during the sequestration-driven drawdown in 2014, are also likely to be on the chopping block. In a conference call with reporters 1 DEC, Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly stressed that no involuntary measures are being planned in fiscal 2021. The 2014 drawdown included multiple involuntary separation and early retirement measures that caused turmoil in the force.

But by mid-December, Kelly expects to unveil a slate of voluntary measures that could include waiving active-duty service commitments and allowing active-duty airmen to move to the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve earlier than usual. The Air Force is also planning to allow airmen in overmanned career fields to retrain into undermanned fields, and could cut some of its retention bonuses. “Certainly, we’ve used bonuses over the [post-drawdown recovery] time frame to help us incentivize and build retention,” Kelly said. “But now as the manning levels have gone up and in some cases exceeded our requirements in many areas, we probably don’t need as many offerings for the bonuses and opportunities for those retention incentives as we’ve had in the past.” The Air Force said it has not yet finalized the list of career fields eligible for selective re-enlistment bonuses in 2021, but it is expected to be released soon.

After the Air Force’s drawdown in 2014, the Air Force struggled to rebuild its ranks and plug holes in critical career fields. Among the most alarming legacies of the drawdown was a massive shortfall in the Air Force’s maintainer ranks that at one point left the Air Force lacking 4,000 maintainers, alarming the top brass. Over the last five years, Kelly said, the Air Force has built back its end strength: adding about 23,000 more airmen, and plugging its maintenance shortfall. The Air Force originally planned to finish fiscal 2020 with 332,800 active-duty airmen, and add 900 more throughout 2021, to bring its end strength to about 333,700 by the end of this current fiscal. But as the COVID-19 pandemic ground on throughout fiscal 2020, hundreds of airmen withdrew or delayed their planned retirements and separations, Kelly said.

So when this fiscal year began, Kelly said, the Air Force found it had not only already met its 2021 end strength goal, but surpassed it. Now, the Air Force has about 900 more active-duty airmen than it is supposed to have. “Where we were in October of ’20 was already beyond where we would want us to be in September of ’21,” Kelly said. Retention rates are now at their highest level in nearly two decades, Kelly said, second only to the post-9/11 retention rates in 2002. Aside from a few career fields, month-to-month and year-to-year retention levels are “extraordinary,” Kelly said, and a welcome development.

Kelly said the changes are probably driven by the economic effects of the pandemic. Unemployment rose sharply in the pandemic’s opening months as the economy contracted, and some airmen may have felt it was safer to stay in uniform rather than take a chance on finding a job in the private sector. But Kelly also hopes that the Air Force’s effort to improve life for airmen and their families has also prompted some to decide to remain in the service a little longer. Kelly said the voluntary moves being planned will allow the Air Force to balance end strength, and avoid more drastic measures that could result in year group gaps in the future. In the past, when the Air Force has found itself with too many airmen, it has sometimes tried to solve that problem by cutting recruitment and accessions of new officers and airmen. But that strategy has a downside: It means that in subsequent years, the Air Force can find itself with too few airmen in certain ranks or with certain levels of experience.

As 2021 proceeds, Kelly said, the Air Force will look at “various opportunities and levers” to allow people to transition to different jobs or roles in the Air Force. The plans to shift airmen into undermanned roles also fit into Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown’s call for the Air Force to change to ensure it can win a war against a major adversary. Brown said in August, his first month on the job, that the service would not be able to count on end strength increases in the future, and would have to make better use of the airmen it has. Air Force leaders — particularly the heads of major commands — need to take a hard look at the missions they have, figure out which jobs aren’t adding enough value to accomplish those missions, and move those airmen where they’re better needed.

Kelly said the Air Force will, in the near future, release lists of retraining opportunities that detail in which career fields — and within those jobs, which ranks — it is undermanned. For example, one career field could be lacking staff sergeants, but another job could be short master sergeants. “Some of the operational career fields, in places, tend to be a little bit lower manned than some of the support career fields, and support areas tend to be a little higher-manned,” Kelly said. “There will be an incentive to continue to make those transitions among those different areas.”

Kelly said that the longstanding pilot shortfall is still hovering around the 1,900 to 2,000 mark, about where it’s consistently been in recent years. Among pilots, Kelly said, the Air Force is generally overmanned in field grade officer ranks of major, lieutenant colonel and colonel. But among company grade officers like lieutenants and captains, it’s undermanned, largely due to limitations in training and production of new pilots. And again, the COVID pandemic is also likely to have an effect on pilot retention. The collapse of travel in 2020 dealt a punishing blow to the airline industry, causing many airlines to slow down hiring new pilots — who in past years often came from the military. In early June, the Air Force said that 171 pilots had been granted permission to stay in uniform past their originally scheduled retirement or separation dates since March.

Kelly said all the numbers on pilots aren’t in yet, but he expects their retention in the Air Force is also improving due to airlines’ COVID-driven hiring reductions. But, he cautioned, that won’t last forever. The airline industry will recover sooner or later — and the Air Force has to be ready. “A lot of what we’ll be focused on is, how do we … make sure we can close the gap by being able to produce more pilots?” Kelly said. As the Air Force considers any force management programs, it will also look at how such programs might apply to or affect the newly created Space Force, the Air Force said in a Tuesday release. Members of the Space Force will not be eligible for a voluntary active-duty service commitment waiver, Kelly said, because they are required to serve at least two years when joining the new service. [Source: AirForceTimes | Stephen Losey | December 1, 2020 ++]

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Army Missing Soldier Policy

Created to Prevent Disappearances Ending in Tragedy

photograph of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen

The Army has announced a new classification system for missing soldiers in response to an independent review of Fort Hood, Texas that found that many sergeants showed an “unwillingness or lack of ability” to keep track of their soldiers. The new policy is designed to create greater urgency to find soldiers when they fail to report for duty. It comes in the aftermath of the disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen and other Hood soldiers who were found dead after being listed as absent without leave.

Guillen, a 20-year-old 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier, went missing in April. It wasn’t until July that her remains were discovered and identified. She was allegedly murdered by a fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, shortly after leaving base. Guillen’s murder prompted the Army to form a five-member, civilian Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, which made a two-week fact-finding mission to Hood in late summer to examine the command climate and culture at the massive post. “The murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen shocked our conscience and brought attention to deeper problems,” McCarthy told reporters at the Pentagon 8 DEC.

In response to the findings of the independent review, McCarthy signed a directive giving clear guidelines to leaders on actions to take when soldiers are missing from duty. “The policy will assist in tracking and finding missing soldiers,” McCarthy said. “It clarifies expectations and responsibilities of unit commanders and [Army] law enforcement authorities focusing on the first 48 hours of when a soldier is missing.” Under the new policy, commanders must determine from evidence that a soldier’s absence is voluntary to classify their duty status as AWOL. Otherwise, commanders will classify absent personnel as “missing,” and the Army will simultaneously initiate a “duty status whereabouts unknown” (DUSTWUN) casualty case, according to an Army news release on the policy. Opening a DUSTWUN casualty case is designed to provide the soldier’s family with a liaison officer while it attempts to locate the missing soldier.

Guillen wasn’t the only Fort Hood soldier never again seen alive after going missing. Pvt. Gregory Morales was last seen on Aug. 19, 2019, days before he was set to be discharged from the service. He was originally classified as AWOL and later listed as a deserter. Morales’ remains were discovered in a field on 19 JUN as investigators were searching for Guillen, leading Army officials to suspect his death was the result of foul play. The independent review committee found that the command climate didn’t recognize “the slippage in accountability procedures and unwillingness or lack of ability of noncommissioned officers to keep track of their subordinates,” according to the report. “The accountability for soldiers at the first muster, or various musters during the day, had slipped, particularly during COVID-19,” said Chris Swecker, chairman of the review committee and retired assistant director for the FBI.

Part of the problem was that NCOs didn’t seem to know enough about their soldiers, he said; the other part of the problem was with all the regulations and all the protocols in the Army and all the procedures, there was none for a failure to report. “There are rules and procedures around AWOL and when to carry that as a status … but at the front, first-line level, each NCO had to rely on their own devices and their own judgment and their own experience as to whether that failure to report was under suspicious circumstances or circumstances where the soldier might be in jeopardy,” said Swecker, who applauded the Army’s new policy for missing soldiers. “It starts on hour one. Any missing person case, the first 24 hours is extremely critical; you can’t get started 24 hours into it. You have to start on Hour One.

The review included nine findings and 70 recommendations addressing major flaws in the Army’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) program at Hood, as well as a “command climate at Fort Hood that that was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” McCarthy said. The report also found Fort Hood’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) detachment “was under-experienced and over-assigned, factors which adversely impacted investigations of sex crimes and soldier deaths,” according to the Army release.

As a result of the committee’s findings, the Army announced 8 DEC it has relieved or suspended 14 Fort Hood leaders, firing Maj. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, deputy commanding general for Support at III Corps, Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander and command sergeant major. “We are holding leaders accountable, and we will fix this,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said, adding that he had talked to Guillen’s mother, Gloria, about the actions the Army is taking. “I told her that we are going to fix these issues, and change, the culture that allowed them to happen. I told her we must and will provide a safe, secure environment for America’s sons and daughters serving in the Army.” [Source: Military.com | Matthew Cox | December 8, 2020 ++]

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National Guard Employment Rights

Uncovered State Government Jobs

Should a federal law that protects National Guard members and reservists from being fired from their private sector jobs while they are deployed also apply to state government jobs? Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court hinted it might weigh in on the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court 1 DEC requested additional information from the Texas attorney general’s office on why the state should not be held accountable to the 1994 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which prohibits employers from retaliating against or firing National Guard members and reservists who are pulled from their full-time jobs to go on active duty.

The case that sparked the court’s interest, Le Roy Torres v. The Texas Department of Public Safety, involves a former Texas state trooper who came back from a yearlong deployment to Balad, Iraq, too sick to perform his former patrol duties. Torres spent a year breathing in toxic ash from the massive open air pit at Balad that may have also sickened thousands of other Iraq war veterans. In an email to McClatchy, Torres said the state did not provide an alternative desk job that could accommodate his deteriorating health. Instead, he said, he was forced to resign in 2012. Torres now relies on supplemental oxygen and is largely confined to his home in Robstown, Texas. “The Texas Department of Public Safety came to my house and stripped me of my credentials and my patrol car in front of my family like a criminal,” Torres said. “I trust SCOTUS will bring justice to my case and shed light for many other warfighters with similar cases.”

The case could have wide-ranging implications for National Guard members and reservists across the country who work in state government positions as their full-time job, and is being watched closely by other states that have not yet set their own policy on the issue, said Brian Lawler, an attorney with the Pilot Law Corp., one of the firms petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Torres. In their filing to the Supreme Court, the law firms representing Torres said as many as 800,000 current or former National Guard members and reservists hold full-time state or local government jobs across the country. While USERRA protections cover service members in private sector or federal jobs, they don’t always protect service members working in state government jobs because of the powers delineated between states and the federal government under the Constitution.

Service members who work for the state cannot sue that state if they are fired in many cases because of the state’s claim of sovereign immunity, a provision under the Constitution that empowers states to only face state or federal lawsuits in their courts if they consent to it. For example, when Torres first filed his lawsuit in Corpus Christi, Texas, it was never heard. Texas dismissed it outright under the claim of sovereign immunity, essentially not consenting to allow the case to be brought forward.

In Torres’ petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Texas attorney general’s office had initially waived the right to respond to the filing, which parties often do when they do not think the case will be taken up by the court, said Andrew Tutt, an attorney with Arnold & Porter, which is one of the firms petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. When the court does request both parties respond, it greatly increases the chances it will go on the docket. The Supreme Court gets about 10,000 petitions a year to hear cases, it requests additional information on only a few hundred, Tutt said. “It means that at least one justice has decided that the case needs to be fully briefed,” Tutt said. After the state of Texas responds, the court will then decide whether to grant certiorari and hear it next year. The Texas attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Having the Supreme Court weigh in is critical, because similar lawsuits in Florida and Virginia show a growing number of states declaring they too will claim sovereign immunity against USERRA claims, Lawler said. Just a handful of states, such as South Carolina and Tennessee, extend USERRA protections to service members in state government jobs. Many states do not have a set policy, but an increasing number are watching the lawsuits in Texas, Florida and Virginia and claiming they also have sovereign immunity, Lawler said. “We are fighting this battle in California, I am told we are about to fight this battle in Missouri,” Lawler said. “The importance of this (Texas) case is not only the number of service members. It’s to flatten the field, to make the playing field uniform for everybody.”

In the Florida lawsuit, U.S. Navy reservist James Hightower alleged he faced a hostile work environment and was denied a promotion because of multiple deployments. Florida and Texas courts initially ruled sovereign immunity shielded the states from the USERRA lawsuits that Torres and Hightower filed. In the Florida case, Hightower’s attorneys have asked the district court that ruled against them to review the case again with an eye toward whether there is a larger legal question that should be reviewed by Florida’s Supreme Court, on whether Florida can apply sovereign immunity to USERRA.

Attorneys in both the Florida and Texas cases argue that states applying sovereign immunity to USERRA cases challenge the federal government’s power to raise armies. “This court’s refusal to apply USERRA’s important employment protections for state employed members of our armed forces … Is a matter of great and immediate public importance and directly affects matters of national defense,” said Marie Mattox, founding attorney of the Mattox Law Firm based in Tallahassee, Florida, who is one of several attorneys representing Hightower. If the U.S. Supreme Court does take up Torres’ case, it would not be heard until the next term, which starts in October. [Source: McClatchy Washington Bureau | Tara Copp | December 2, 2020 ++]

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USMC Infantry Training

Not Long Enough ― Or Good Enough ― For Future Fight

Today, Marines entering the infantry field spend nine weeks at the School of Infantry, learning the basics of their trade before hitting the fleet. But in a future Marine Corps, where small units will be distributed over wide distances and junior Marines will be making more decisions, the nine weeks may not be enough initial training, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said 2 DEC. “Infantry training will be longer,” Berger said during a hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the readiness of the Navy and Marine Corps. “The product of infantry training on the enlisted side will be at a higher level than what we are producing right now,” Berger added.

Berger envisions the future of the Marine Corps as smaller, lighter and more mobile, a force capable of deploying in new formations in the littorals of any future battlefield. The Corps, deployed in small widely dispersed expeditionary advanced bases, will form a skirmish line, acting as the “eyes and ears” of the joint force, while still capable of providing a deadly punch or denying enemy ships from moving freely. Much like how current Marine captains commanding companies are asked to make decisions that previously were made by lieutenant colonels commanding battalions, the future distributed force will see platoons, squads and possibly even fire teams making decisions formerly reserved for company-level leadership, Berger said at the hearing.

The current infantry training model, where a Marine spends nine weeks at the School of Infantry then is sent to the fleet to have their training completed by platoon sergeants, will simply not create units capable of making those high-level decisions, Berger said. “We need to get to that higher level because they are going to be more distributed, we are going to rely on them to make higher level decisions,” Berger said. Marine Corps Training and Education Command has not yet responded to questions asking for more details about what the Marine Corps is considering and when those plans may be put into action. [Source: MarineCorpsTimes | Philip Athey | December 2, 2020 ++]

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USMC ASW EABO

How Marines Could fight Subs in the Future

Today, every Marine is a rifleman. Tomorrow, they could be sub-hunters. The Marine Corps is all in on shifting its spending, personnel and operations to support the Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept, which would spread out smaller units of Marines across vast expanses of ocean and islands, maneuvering them around to make them tougher for an adversary to target as they conduct their missions. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger has laid out an idea that, if the Marines are going to pursue their strategy of establishing these EABs to do things like rearming and refueling, air defense and offensive strike, they may as well also help the Navy by searching the local waters for enemy submarines.

Berger wrote in a November Proceedings magazine article that “U.S. ASW capabilities in the air, on the surface, and under the sea rely on a brittle layer of logistical support. As Chinese and Russian undersea warfare capabilities continue to improve, logistics and other supporting operations for U.S. ASW forces will grow in importance. Integrating cross-domain ASW operations into the Marine Corps’ expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO) concept could enable the joint force to sustain or widen its advantage in ASW. Conducted across the spectrum of conflict, theater-level ASW is a campaign of sustained actions over time for undersea advantage. By offering forward logistics and support, as well as sensor and strike capabilities, Marine expeditionary advanced bases (EABs) could make a significant contribution to undersea warfare campaigns, including holding Chinese and Russian submarines at risk.”

He said during a 7 DEC interview on the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Podcast that the EABO concept dates back several years but that discussions about the concept have been mostly limited to classified forums. As a result, public conversations about what EABO could bring to the Navy-Marine team are less imaginative than the ones actually happening behind closed doors. “People thought of, well where the commandant’s going is a bunch of little tiny Marine units that are running around with some kind of lethal batteries and kind of modern-day defense battalions sort of thing, and they were somehow going to support the fleet. And it created this mental model that became kind of an anchor for us,” Berger said. “I’d ask folks to stretch out their brains for us and think of EABO much wider than that. I think a huge aspect of how we’re going to use EABO going forward is how we’re going to, what the naval force might call scouting and counter-scouting, or the Army calls reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance.”

That scouting could occur in all domains to contribute to a fleet commander’s operational picture: if Marines are on an island without any other naval forces nearby, of course the rest of the force would want to know what they can detect in the sky and on the surface. But Berger is interested in what the Marines could detect under the sea, too, to contribute to anti-submarine warfare. “We’re not thinking about replicating or substituting for what the Navy does really, really well right now. This is, how do you add to it?” Berger said. EABs will certainly do refueling and rearming for naval and joint forces passing through the area, but Berger said he’s trying to explore the potential of sensing and data-collection.

“If we’re going to have Marine units that are distributed around a pretty spread-out environment, is there a way they could collect on the subsurface picture and contribute to the overall subsurface fight, undersea fight? Maybe yes. So although some would think immediately, well what kind of weapons systems are we talking about? My first thought is, how do you paint a picture, a better, more complete picture, for the fleet commander? Because he can’t have a submarine and his P-8s everywhere, so is there a way where Marine units could complement, could add to that undersea picture? And if we can, and an adversary knows that we can, okay, now we can start to change their behavior. Now they can’t operate everywhere with impunity. We’re sort of herding them into where we would like them to go now. Same communications-wise,” the commandant said during the podcast.

“So from our view, how do we add to, how do we complement what the Navy already does very well? And from the other side, how do we change their perception that they can, as long as they stay away from the U.S. submarines and the U.S. P-8s, we’re free and clear; how do we change that mental model to make them think, my god there’s these Marine units spread all over the place and they’re going to know, they’re going to pick up where we’re moving?”

Previously, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Tracy King, the Navy’s director of expeditionary warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff, had discussed Marine EABs conducting anti-sub operations, much as they plan to conduct anti-ship operations in support of sea control and sea denial for the Navy. He said over the summer that U.S. submarines give away their position when they shoot torpedoes, so if Marines on islands could go after those targets instead, U.S. SSNs could go on lurking undetected. “We’re going to have Marines out there sinking ships. I’ve even talked to our undersea guys about Marines out there sinking submarines, so some of our inside forces can stay hidden. Let our adversary worry about me and my hundred guys running around crazy on some island instead of these capital assets that are really the heart and soul of the joint force,” he said, referring to American attack submarines.

Commandant Berger said during the podcast that the Marine Corps is obligated by law to organize, train and equip a fleet marine force to support naval campaigns. He said he sees the ASW mission as an extension of that, as the Navy’s focus in the coming years will be control, sea denial, power projection and securing sea lines of communication against peer or near-peer competitor – all things that Berger thinks the Marine Corps can help with. Speaking about specifically what led him to the notion of Marines conducting ASW, he said that the U.S. naval force previously had an operational and strategic advantage in precision fires, though as that technology has proliferated the U.S. advantage has shrunk. He believes that the key U.S. advantage today is in undersea warfare, and “if that’s true, if we have a large margin there, an advantage undersea and we need to sustain that, then I’m thinking through how does the Fleet Marine Force help maintain that advantage and perhaps grow it. And I think the answer is, we’re going to use expeditionary advance operations to do that, EABO to do that.”

He said the EABs would be equipped with advanced sensors in the surface, air and subsurface. The Marine Corps does not have that capability today, but “we’re experimenting with all that now.” The commandant acknowledged the oddity of a Marine officer calling for anti-submarine warfare capabilities – much like his predecessor, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller saying the next dollar in the budget should be used to buy more submarines. In Neller’s case, he was laying out the new argument at the time that the Marines would have to fight to get to the fight and that further integration with naval forces to contribute to blue-water sea control operations would be necessary.

“Yeah, this is a bit of an intellectual stretch for some. And some may think it’s not realistic for the fleet marine force to – why would you even go into anti-sub warfare, or why would you have a future ARG/MEU with T-AGOS shipping? Why would you employ ASW type capabilities? And I think that’s closed-minded,” Berger said “I am pushing folks to think wider, to elevate, to think in a non-conventional, non-traditional way. I’m not asking them to go into science fiction, but this is reasonable – move beyond, in other words, the traditional comfort level.”

“I think forward-deployed naval expeditionary forces, we’re going to organize, train and equip them to compete in the maritime gray zone and help contribute towards this scouting/counter-scouting sort of competition every day, every week. And those same forces, Navy plus Marine Corps, have to be able to transition from competition to crisis, because we’re not going to be able to pull out one force and put in another. My assumption is going forward, those forward forces have to be the ones who respond as well immediately,” he said of the future operating environment. To support that vision, the Marine Corps has called on the Navy to help design and buy two new classes of ship: a Light Amphibious Warship and a medium logistics ship. Berger said there’s no push-back from Congress about the need for these two platforms, though there’s work to be done to get the requirements right and keep them stable, so the shipbuilding programs’ cost don’t grow out of control for what’s meant to be relatively cheap programs that could be fielded by the dozens.

Speaking of today’s L-class amphibious ships, Berger said, “you have this kind of vessels that get you to the fight, and in the high end they’re survivable, that’s what you use to punch through, that’s what you use to land forces when you need to – okay, you’ve got those. But what we don’t have right now that we’re going to need is, in a contested environment, every day, every week, how are we going to move supplies, reposition forces, keep them sustained – so that drives you towards a class of more affordable ships that are smaller, lower-signature. Okay, that’s what we don’t have today. So they don’t take the place of an LHA or an LPD,” but instead they would increase mobility to support EABO.

“There’s a clear acceptance now that the game is about deterrence and competition every day, every week,” Berger said “And that means we’re going to have to have more than the few dozen amphib ships to be able to really compete on a scale and in the kind of a gray-zone environment that we’re going to have to.” [Source: USNI News | Megan Eckstein | December 8, 2020 ++]

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Military Base Names

Update 01: Congress’ Detailed Plan to Get Rid of Confederate Ones

The sign and the main entrance to Fort A.P. Hill.

The hotly debated issue of renaming 10 Army installations honoring Confederate generals was a key sticking point in the 2021 defense policy bill — and may still earn the bill a veto from President Donald Trump. But the full text of the National Defense Authorization Act conference report, released 3 DEC, includes a requirement that the bases be renamed within the next three years — and that all “names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America” also be stricken. It also provides detailed plans for a commission that would execute this plan and work with local communities to determine fitting new names for the bases.

In a 2 DEC press conference, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany reiterated Trump’s opposition to renaming military bases, which he first expressed months ago. “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with,” Trump tweeted 10 JUN. “Respect our Military! In a 3 DEC evening briefing with reporters, committee officials declined to discuss what might happen “This is the bill that’s going to pass the house,” a senior Democratic staffer for the House Armed Services Committee said “Then the president will do what the president will do and the leadership will decide … should the president do anything other than sign the bill into law.”

The bill now sent to the president will create an eight-member commission to develop the base renaming plan, with four members appointed by the defense secretary; and one each appointed by the chair and ranking member of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The commission will be formed within 45 days of the NDAA’s enactment, and hold its first meeting within 60 days, the bill states. By Oct. 11, 2021, the commission must deliver to Congress a written report that includes a list of all military property that needs to be removed or renamed; a cost estimate for carrying out the changes; and the decided-upon criteria for coming up with new names, where applicable.

The plan, the bill emphasizes, must also include “procedures and criteria for collecting and incorporating local sensitivities associated with naming or renaming of assets of the Department of Defense.” The commission will have a budget of $2 million to carry out its renaming task, the bill states; that money will be taken from the Army’s fiscal 2021 Operations and Maintenance budget. While the purge of confederate names includes everything from bases to ships, planes and streets, there’s one defined exception: grave markers are exempted from the new legislation. “Congress expects the commission to further define what constitutes a grave marker,” the bill states.

In a statement released this week, Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, celebrated the passage of the renaming provision. “National security isn’t simply defined by the planes and ships we buy — but in the values we set for our military and ourselves,” Brown, a Democrat and a prominent proponent of the renaming effort, said. “We cannot ask today’s young servicewomen and men to defend our nation, while housing and training them and their families on bases honoring those who betrayed our country in order to enslave others.”

In an October interview with Military.com, military historian Richard Kohn, professor emeritus of History in Peace, War and Defense at UNC-Chapel Hill, advocated for the formation of a committee, similar to that detailed in the NDAA conference report, to oversee a base renaming effort. “[Such a] group must be diverse, must include people of all races and religions and backgrounds with some attachment or some knowledge to the service,” Kohn said. “It ought to operate in a most transparent way, it ought to have hearings, it ought to hear from the local areas about to hear from the people serving today. This would be a large and difficult business, that if you don’t do it, at least, to a major degree in the way I’m describing, you’re just gonna stir up more anger and division. And we’ve got enough anger and division in this country.” [Source: Military.com | Hope Hodge Seck | December 4, 2020 ++]

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Navy Terminology, Jargon & Slang

‘Qual Card’ thru ‘Ramrod’

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

Qual Card – A listing of necessary PQS qualification points. Each completed goal is acknowledged by the signature of the appropriate duty Chief or other authorized signer. May be a single piece of paper or a bound book.

Queer – (1) Homosexual. (2) An EA-6 Prowler, or the pilot of same, from the VAQ squadron identifier.

Rabbits – (1) (RN) Souvenirs. (2) Any unofficial job. (3) Hydraulic tracks that move weapons horizontally in a US SSN’s torpedo room. (4) (RCN) Items stolen from the ship or shipyard and smuggled out the main gate. Can also mean items bought duty free overseas. Originally referred to actual, live rabbits which were taken by dockyard workers from Whale Island in the UK.

Rack – Bed, especially the combination bed and locker found as enlisted sleeping accommodations.

Racket – An intercepted electromagnetic signal. The term is used in Electronic Warfare.

Rack Time – Sleep.

Radioing a Report – See GUNDECKING.

Raghat – Junior sailor, E-6 (First Class Petty Officer) and below. Refers to the sailor’s white hat.

Rain Locker – Shower.

Ralph – Also seen as “looking for Ensign Ralph.” Praying to the porcelain god (vomiting). May result from seasickness or from having maximized a recreational opportunity ashore, or a combination of the two.

Ramp (the) – The aftmost edge of the flight deck. Slopes toward the water at about 45 degrees. Aka ‘ROUND-DOWN’.

Ramp Strike – Occurs when an aircraft on carrier approach lands short and hits the RAMP. Damage sustained by the aircraft can range from loss of the hook point to destruction of the aircraft. Ship (and personnel) damage can also result.

Ramrod – In WW II, a combined fighter-bomber mission whose primary goal was destruction of a ground target.

[Source: http://hazegray.org/faq/slang1.htm | December 15, 2020 ++]

* Military History *

WWII Operation Uranus

How the Soviets Trapped the German 6th Army in Stalingrad

In the fall of 1942, the Red Army had its back to the wall once again. During the first six months of the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht had killed or captured almost three million Russian soldiers. December brought the Soviet Winter Offensive, which sent the German Army reeling back at the cost of another million Russian dead. The dispositions of the allied armies were a clear invitation for disaster. Stalin had already ordered that Stalingrad be held at all costs, but the meat grinder was destroying units almost as fast as they could make their way into the city. He needed a miracle to break the stranglehold at Stalingrad, and he found his wizard in the person of Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgi K. Zhukov.

As chief of the general staff, Zhukov was involved in organizing western Russian defenses in early 1941. When the Germans struck in June, he helped organize the defense of Leningrad. He was also instrumental in developing the plans for the Soviet winter offensive that drove the Germans back from the gates of Moscow. In August 1942, with the Germans fast approaching Stalingrad, Zhukov was made deputy supreme commander of the Red Army. His plan to save Stalingrad was to trade land for blood. The longer the Germans had to fight for each mile of Soviet territory, the more time he had to gather reinforcements for the signature counterattack that had already brought him fame. He was willing to take enormous losses to achieve his goals, and he made no excuses for his actions. To read the events that led up to his saving Stalingrad refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “WWII Operation Uranus”. [Source: The National Interest | Warfare History Network | June 20, 2020 ++]

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Great Emu War

Emu Victory Over Australian Military

Deceased emu during Emu War.jpg

Following World War I, large numbers of discharged veterans who served in the war were given land by the Australian government to take up farming within Western Australia, often in agriculturally marginal areas. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, these farmers were encouraged to increase their wheat crops, with the government promising—and failing to deliver—assistance in the form of subsidies. In spite of the recommendations and the promised subsidies, wheat prices continued to fall, and by October 1932 matters were becoming intense, with the farmers preparing to harvest the season’s crop while simultaneously threatening to refuse to deliver the wheat.

The difficulties facing farmers were increased by the arrival of as many as 20,000 emus. Emus regularly migrate after their breeding season, heading to the coast from the inland regions. With the cleared land and additional water supplies being made available for livestock by the Western Australian farmers, the emus found that the cultivated lands were good habitat, and they began to foray into farm territory—in particular the marginal farming land around Chandler and Walgoolan. The emus consumed and spoiled the crops, as well as leaving large gaps in fences where rabbits could enter and cause further problems.

Farmers relayed their concerns about the birds ravaging their crops, and a deputation of ex-soldiers were sent to meet with the Minister of Defense, Sir George Pearce. Having served in World War I, the soldier-settlers were well aware of the effectiveness of machine guns, and they requested their deployment. The minister readily agreed, although with conditions attached: the guns were to be used by military personnel, troop transport was to be financed by the Western Australian government, and the farmers would provide food, accommodation, and payment for the ammunition. Pearce also supported the deployment on the grounds that the birds would make good target practice, while it has also been argued that some in the government may have viewed the operation as a way of being seen to be helping the Western Australian farmers, to stave off the secession movement that was brewing.

First Attempt

On 2 NOV the men travelled to Campion, where some 50 emus were sighted. As the birds were out of range of the guns, the local settlers attempted to herd the emus into an ambush, but the birds split into small groups and ran so that they were difficult to target. Nevertheless, while the first fusillade from the machine guns was ineffective due to the range, a second round of gunfire was able to kill “a number” of birds. Later the same day a small flock was encountered, and “perhaps a dozen” birds were killed. The next significant event was on 4 NOV. Meredith had established an ambush near a local dam, and more than 1,000 emus were spotted heading towards their position. This time the gunners waited until the birds were in close proximity before opening fire. The gun jammed after only twelve birds were killed and the remainder scattered before any more could be shot. No more birds were sighted that day.

In the days that followed, Meredith chose to move further south, where the birds were “reported to be fairly tame”, but there was only limited success in spite of his efforts. By the fourth day of the campaign, army observers noted that “each pack seems to have its own leader now—a big black-plumed bird which stands fully six feet high and keeps watch while his mates carry out their work of destruction and warns them of our approach”. At one stage Meredith even went so far as to mount one of the guns on a truck, a move that proved to be ineffective, as the truck was unable to gain on the birds, and the ride was so rough that the gunner was unable to fire any shots. By 8 NOV, six days after the first engagement, 2,500 rounds of ammunition had been fire. The number of birds killed is uncertain: one account estimates that it was 50 birds, but other accounts range from 200 to 500, the latter figure being provided by the settlers. Meredith’s official report noted that his men had suffered no casualties.

Summarizing the culls, ornithologist Dominic Serventy commented: The machine-gunners’ dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month. On 8 NOV, members in the Australian House of Representatives discussed the operation. Following the negative coverage of the events in the local media, that included claims that “only a few” emus had died, Pearce withdrew the military personnel and the guns on 8 NOV.

After the withdrawal of the First Attempt, Major Meredith compared the emus to Zulus and commented on the striking maneuverability of the emus, even while badly wounded. If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world … They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.

Second Attempt

After the withdrawal of the military, the emu attacks on crops continued. Farmers again asked for support, citing the hot weather and drought that brought emus invading farms in the thousands. James Mitchell, the Premier of Western Australia lent his strong support to renewal of the military assistance. At the same time, a report from the Base Commander was issued that indicated 300 emus had been killed in the initial operation. Acting on the requests and the Base Commander’s report, by 12 NOV the Minister of Defense approved a resumption of military efforts. He defended the decision in the Senate, explaining why the soldiers were necessary to combat the serious agricultural threat of the large emu population. Although the military had agreed to lend the guns to the Western Australian government on the expectation that they would provide the necessary people, Meredith was once again placed in the field due to an apparent lack of experienced machine gunners in the state.

Taking to the field on 13 NOV 1932, the military found a degree of success over the first two days, with approximately 40 emus killed. The third day, 15 NOV, proved to be far less successful, but by 2 DEC the soldiers were killing approximately 100 emus per week. Meredith was recalled on 10 DEC, and in his report he claimed 986 kills with 9,860 rounds, at a rate of exactly 10 rounds per confirmed kill. In addition, Meredith claimed 2,500 wounded birds had died as a result of the injuries that they had sustained. In assessing the success of the cull, an article in the Coolgardie Miner on 23 August 1935 reported that although the use of machine guns had been “criticized in many quarters, the method proved effective and saved what remained of the wheat”.

Aftermath

Despite the problems encountered with the cull, the farmers of the region once again requested military assistance in 1934, 1943, and 1948, only to be turned down by the government. Instead, the bounty system that had been instigated in 1923 was continued, and this proved to be effective: 57,034 bounties were claimed over a six-month period in 1934. By December 1932, word of the Emu War had spread, reaching the United Kingdom. Some conservationists there protested the cull as “extermination of the rare emu”. Dominic Serventy and Hubert Whittell, the eminent Australian ornithologists, described the “war” as “an attempt at the mass destruction of the birds”.

Throughout 1930 and onward, exclusion barrier fencing became a popular means of keeping emus out of agricultural areas (in addition to other vermin, such as dingoes and rabbits). In November 1950, Hugh Leslie raised the issues of emus in federal parliament and urged Army Minister Josiah Francis to release a quantity of .303 ammunition from the army for the use of farmers. The minister approved the release of 500,000 rounds of ammunition. In recent years, references to the Emu War have been a popular Internet meme. In 2020, it inspired a video game entitled Emu War.

[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emu_War | December 9, 2020 ++]

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Berga am Elster

WWII POWs Recall Camp Berga

The following account comes from the April 13th, 1997, issue of the New Jersey newspaper, The Sunday Star-Ledger. The subject of the article, seen here in its entirety, is the plight of American Jews in Nazi occupied Germany. This includes captured U.S. soldiers who were Jewish. Norman Fellman, B/275, captured in early January 1945, is featured in the article written by Juan Forero. Shortly before marrying his sweetheart, Norman Fellman reached into the darkest corner of his memory to tell her a secret he had wanted to repress – his harrowing internment in a Nazi slave camp called Berga am Elster. “I wanted her to know what she was getting into, that I was damaged goods – mentally, anyway,” recalled Fellman, then 73, living in Bedminster, and still married to Bunny after 49 years. “We didn’t talk about it again for a very long, long time.”

-o-o-O-o-o-

Thousands of other Holocaust survivors – many of whom settled in America after World War II- had talked, and talked loudly, about their experiences in occupied Germany. But Fellman wasn’t like most survivors. Though Jewish-he wasn’t a European. He was an American, a GI from Virginia who was captured in battle. And for decades, as he went about building a life and family in New Jersey, he avoided elaborating about his wartime experiences. “The things that you saw, the things we experienced, were so unspeakable that you wanted to bury the past, you wanted to go on,” said Fellman. “There’s some things you just didn’t want to talk about.”

For Fellman, the memories of breathing thick granite dust in a tunnel where he and other captured soldiers toiled day after day were too much to recount. Others, like Myron Swack, tried hard to forget the barbarity – the beatings by the guards, the frozen bodies of dead comrades. Eugene Krygier repressed the painful memories of his lost youth, how his family was torn apart as he and relatives were shipped from one Nazi camp to the other. Now these New Jersey men and other Americans caught up in the Holocaust – captured Army soldiers, Americans living in Europe when world war erupted, the children of citizens trapped in the terrifying German blitzkrieg – are recounting in vivid and, often horrifying details months of captivity in Adolf Hitler’s camps. In the process, they’re shedding light on one of World War II’s little-known episodes-and the American government’s failure in assisting U.S. citizens trapped in occupied Europe.

Their stories have surfaced as a result of a 1995 agreement between the United States and Germany that allowed survivors held in concentration camps to apply for reparations from Germany as long as they could prove they held U.S. citizenship at the time of their internment. For years, victims of Nazi atrocities – mostly Jews, but also others from various countries occupied by Germany – have received pensions or reparations from Germany. But Americans had been excluded. Though the deadline for filing with the Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission was in FEB 1997, chairwoman Delissa Ridgeway said the commission would do its best to process applications filed since. The claims must be presented to German authorities by 19 SEP, after which a lump payment will be made to the United States for disbursement among the claimants

For many of the survivors – dozens of whom live in New Jersey – the agreement between Washington and Bonn has opened a door that has less to do with money than with personal validation. “There are some people who have felt the need to talk, but most felt that they wanted to put it behind them,” said Mitchell Bard, author of the 1994 book ‘Forgotten Victims: The Abandonment of Americans in Hitler’s Camps.’ “It was too horrible an experience for them to talk about. Many of them didn’t say anything for 40 years, to anybody. Bard said many of those Americans did not reveal their stories after the war out of fear they wouldn’t be believed. According to Bard, the U.S. Government did not welcome publicity on the matter. The State Department had known Americans were imperiled in German-held territories, but bureaucratic indifference, red tape and the inability to comprehend the scope of the horror ensured that hundreds of U.S. citizens would be mistreated by the Nazis.

“The agreement is important because it’s a recognition, not just by the German government but by the American government, that these people are telling the truth about what happened to them,” Bard said. “The money issue is largely irrelevant. Nobody is going to make a lot money off this anyway. They see this as a recognition that they knew to be true but nobody would believe.” For Fellman and some other men the truth was the hell at a site inmates believe was a subcamp of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp Like other U.S. soldiers captured in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, Fellman was first sent to Stalag 9B, a prisoner-of-war camp, But then the Germans separated Fellman and the other Jewish soldiers – as well as other GIs – and shipped them in boxcars to a small town on the Elster River. They were housed in barracks, sleeping two or three to a lice infested bunk. They also worked under forced labor conditions – like Jews and other “undesirables” in Nazi Germany but unlike most American POWs.

At Berga, some were put to work as electricians, carpenters, locksmiths. The worst duty came in the mines, where the Germans were excavating tunnels for a munitions plant. The POWs dug through slate for hours on end, breathing fumes and mine dust. Their diet consisted of hardened bread heavy on sawdust, an occasional slice of meat and a nearly inedible soup. Within weeks, most of them were walking skeletons. Some had blisters and open wounds, respiratory ailments and dysentery. They were being worked to death. Of the 350 American POWs who had emerged at Berga from boxcars on Feb. 13, 1945, about 70 would perish from malnutrition, disease and beatings. “Where we were, a lot of us died,” said Swack, 71, who lives in North Caldwell with his wife. “The bodies were all over the place. They didn’t bury them…. The problem was there was death all over the damned place.”

Swack was an 18 year old farm boy from Ohio when he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Later, when the Germans began to look for Jews among the American soldiers, some of the GIs threatened their Jewish comrades, saying they’d reveal who was Jewish unless the Jews gave up some rations, Swack recalled. “It was bad all around,” Swack recalled. “It was a matter of survival. It was a brutal scene.” Another POW, Jerry Daub, who for years lived in Bergen County and now resides in Rockland County, N.Y., said one of’ his worst memories stemmed from a beating he took from a civilian overseer. Unable to defend himself – fighting back could have ensured his death – Daub simply took the pummeling. “I was really just a pawn, an animal,” he said. “To think that somebody could do what they want to…When this man hit me, beat me, I had to stand there and do nothing.”

Others, like Eugene Krygier of Demarest in Bergen County, had experiences that more closely parallel those of Jews, Gypsies, Russians and others who were caught up in the German occupation. Born in America to Polish parents, Krygier and his family moved back to his parents homeland in 1930, when he was 3. The German war machine came in 1939 and the Catholic family was uprooted, fleeing with others. Suspected of supporting the Polish underground, his father was beaten, tortured and imprisoned. At 15, Krygier was sent to a munitions factory. An older sister was sent to prison and an internment camp. “It was terrible, let me tell you,” Krygier, now 70, recounted. “It was like at one moment you have a normal life, and the next thing you know your parents are taken away from you.”

Like the American servicemen, Krygier for years said little to anyone about his experiences. And he never for a moment thought he’d receive compensation. Then in 1995, Hugo Princz of Highland Park and 10 other Americans who survived Nazi camps won a $2.1 million award after a years-long legal battle with Germany. The result was the agreement that opened the door to hundreds, and possibly thou- sands, of others who were victimized by the Nazis. “My victory created all that,” said Princz, 74, who was born in Czechoslovakia to an American father. “It was a tough fight. It lasted too long. Forty years is too long for anything, anything. But I didn’t give up.”

-o-o-O-o-o-

As of early APR 1979, 860 applications had been received of which 260 were after the Feb. 23 deadline. Most observers – author Bard and lawyers for survivors – believed many of the applications eventually would be denied because the survivors were not Americans at the time of their internment or because they were held in internment camps, not in concentration camps or the equivalent. There’s even some concern whether the Americans at Berga would be compensated, because it’s unclear whether the camp was a subcamp of Buchenwald; as the POWs contend. Berga does appear on German lists of concentration camps, Bard said, and doesn’t appear on lists of POW camps.

William Marks, a Washington lawyer who specializes in helping Holocaust victims in their claim for compensation and pensions from Germany, said: “These guys may or may not have been in the civilian camp called Berga. If they weren’t inside the four walls, they were effectively at Berga because of what they were forced to do and who was overseeing them” – the SS command. “You have guys who lost, routinely, 50, 60, 80 pounds in a matter of months, subjected to the most barbaric slave conditions. They were literally left to die,” Marks said.

Another problem, especially in the case of those who weren’t soldiers, is the difficulty in acquiring the documentation necessary to build a strong case. “Many people have no documentation whatsoever, nor do they have any witnesses,” said Anne-Marie Kagy, a lawyer who worked nearly full time researching cases for Washington attorney Steve Perles, who represented about 15 of the claimants. “With a 50 year-old claim, there are limitations on what you can find and what you can reconstruct.” [Source: Jewish Virtual Library | December 10, 2020 ++]

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WWI Gas Mask

Improvisation

https://historydaily.org/content/205047/6a4af5457bafe50c35701fe7fa2b4bbb.jpg

During World War I there were a number of different gas masks used on the front. Not only was gas mask technology changing throughout the war, but there were times when soldiers had to put together something quick to keep themselves safe during a gas attack. From the time of American involvement in World War I, around 2,000 U.S. troops were harmed by poison attacks, and members of the Allied powers suffered an even bigger hit in numbers.

Gas was initially used on the battlefield by releasing it from canisters and pushing it downwind. Over the course of the war, tear and chlorine gas were released on the Eastern Front and it quickly induced fear in troops from across the world. To keep safe, troops used cloth soaked in their own urine to protect their lungs from the poison. Why urine? They believed the ammonia in their urea would neutralize the chlorine, and chlorine dissolves in water so it had trouble passing through the wet cloth. [Source: https://historydaily.org/unseen-history-photos-that-leave-nothing-to-the-imagination/4 | November 27, 2020 ++]

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Every Picture Tells A Story

Preventing Salt Water Corrosion

http://www.vintagewings.ca/Portals/0/Vintage_Stories/News%20Stories%20Q/RightPlace2/RightPlace13.jpg

With weather being constantly scorching hot and humid at Royal Naval Air Section (RNAS) Cochin on the Malabar Coast of India, many laborious tasks were jobbed out to unskilled locals, including stripping newly-delivered Fleet Air Arm aircraft of their sprayed-on coating used to protect them in transit. Many of the delivered aircraft, like this Chance Vought Corsair, were lashed to the flight decks of light aircraft carriers and subject to saltwater corrosion during delivery voyages. The Corsairs were wrapped in a strippable coating called Eronel and travelled without outer wing panels and empennage—these were assembled at Cochin and supplied to replenishment carriers or to squadrons based at Cochin for training. “Eronel Spraypeel” was a plastic, sprayed on and peelable product made by Eronel Industries in Connecticut.

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Military History Anniversaries

16 thru 31 DEC

Significant events in U. S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 16 thru 31 DEC”. [Source: This Day in History www.history.com/this-day-in-history | December 2020 ++]

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WWII Bomber Nose Art

[65] Moonhappy

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Medal of Honor Awardees

Allan Ohata | WWII

https://ecp.yusercontent.com/mail?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstaticapp.icpsc.com%2Ficp%2Fresources%2Fmogile%2F1292467%2Fe6d675da0c3f1af5edb0184e77fcafdb.jpeg&t=1553274363&ymreqid=74a91ed1-3254-87b7-13c9-f90000010000&sig=EIjQYWOZYOPYd1aYsJakeQ--~C

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the

MEDAL OF HONOR

To

Sergeant Allan M. Ohata

Organization: U.S. Army, Company B, 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)

Place and date: Near Cerasuolo, Italy November 30, 1943

Entered service: November 1941

Born: September 13, 1918, Honolulu, Oahu, Honolulu County

During World War II, Japanese-American service members weren’t welcomed with open arms on their home turf thanks to the stigma that came with the Pearl Harbor attacks in Hawaii. But Army Staff Sgt. Allan Ohata was one of many Japanese-Americans — known as Nisei — to push ahead anyway to fight with bravery and distinction. More than 55 years after he took out dozens of enemy soldiers in Italy, he was finally awarded the Medal of Honor. Ohata was born Sept 13, 1918, in Honolulu to parents who emigrated from Japan. The family owned a small flower garden business where Ohata and his seven siblings occasionally helped. After high school, he worked with his brother, Donald, in a surplus parts store.

Ohata joined the Army in November 1941 — a month before the attacks on his home island of Oahu that thrust the U.S. into World War II. At the beginning of the war, Nisei weren’t initially allowed to serve in the armed forces due to fears stemming from the attacks perpetrated by Japan. Deep suspicion of Japanese-Americans settled across the nation, leading to the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people to internment camps simply out of distrust. Yet many Japanese-Americans still wanted to serve. Eventually, they were allowed to enlist into segregated units. Ohata was swallowed into that fold. In June 1943, he volunteered with more than 1,200 other Nisei soldiers to sail from Honolulu to Europe to fight as the 100th Infantry Battalion. They were the first all-Nisei Army unit activated. By the end of September 1943, after a few months of sailing, Ohata’s unit landed on Italian soil. It was slightly more than a month later that he would be put to the biggest test of his life.

On Nov. 29, 1943, then-Sgt. Ohata was near Cerasuolo, Italy, with Company B of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate). Ohata, his squad leader and three other men were ordered to protect their platoon’s left flank against about 40 heavily armed enemy soldiers. Ohata posted one of the men on the far left, 15 yards from his own position. A few minutes into the fight, he heard that man shouting for help. Apparently, his automatic rifle had been shot and damaged. Without hesitation, Ohata jumped up and ran 15 yards through heavy machine gun fire to help the soldier. As soon as he got there, Ohata opened fire on the enemy, killing 10 men while his fellow soldier withdrew to get his damaged weapon replaced.

When the soldier returned, he and Ohata took out 37 enemy soldiers while holding their position. Both men then charged the three remaining soldiers and took them prisoner. According to Ohata’s citation, he and his fellow soldier also managed to stop 14 more enemy soldiers, killing four and wounding three more while the rest fled. The pair held their flank through the next day, staving off all other attacks. Ohata eventually came home from the war and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery. It was just one of many honors the 100th Infantry Battalion earned, making it one of the most decorated units of the war.

Ohata left the Army, went back to school and got a degree in engineering. He worked for Northrop Aircraft and Lockheed Missile and Space Company in California. Ohata died of colon cancer on Oct. 17, 1977, when he was just 59. He is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Ohata’s sister, Mildred, said he was always a quiet child, and that didn’t change when he got older. He rarely talked about the war. According to a 1985 Hawaiian Herald article, most of the friends he made later in life didn’t even know he’d been in the war until after he died. His sister said he suffered his cancer diagnosis alone nearly until the end because he didn’t want to burden others.

Belated Honor

While the marvelous bravery of the men of the 100th was well-known during World War II, only one Medal of Honor was initially given to a Nisei soldier: Private 1st Class Sadao Munemori received it as an upgrade from a Distinguished Service Cross in April 1946, a year after he died in battle. That would change 50 years later. A gold medal with the image of Japanese American World War II soldiers and the words “Nisei soldiers of World War II Go for Broke” In the 1990s, legislation sponsored by a Hawaiian Senator led to an official review of many of the Distinguished Service Crosses that had been awarded to Japanese-Americans for their heroics and loyalty — despite the discrimination they faced at the time. After years of research, the review resulted in the military upgrading 19 of the 52 Distinguished Service Crosses and one Silver Star to Medals of Honor.

Ohata, six other members of the 100th and several more Nisei soldiers received that honor on June 21, 2000. During a White House ceremony, President Bill Clinton presented the medals to those who were still alive and their family members. Ohata’s brother, Donald, accepted the medal on his behalf. We continue to thank Ohata and all the Nisei soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines who put their lives on the line for their nation during World War II. [Source: https://www.cmohs.org & DOD News | Katie Lange | November 30, 2020 ++]

* Health Care *

Covid-19 Treatment

Update 06: Baricitinib plus Remdesivir Show Promise

The combination of baricitinib, an anti-inflammatory drug, and remdesivir, an antiviral, reduced time to recovery for people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to clinical trial results published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The clinical trial is the second iteration of the NIH Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial (ACTT-2), a study protocol to evaluate therapeutics for people hospitalized with COVID-19. Remdesivir is a broad-spectrum antiviral treatment developed by Gilead Sciences, Inc. Baricitinib was discovered by Incyte and licensed to Eli Lilly and Company, and marketed under the brand name Olumiant. It is approved in more than 70 countries as a treatment for adults with moderately-to-severely active rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers hypothesized that because many severe symptoms of COVID-19 are caused by a poorly regulated inflammatory response, a therapeutic designed to target inflammation could be helpful for patients. The primary results of this study were first announced in September.

The ACTT-2 trial opened on May 8, 2020 and enrolled a total of 1,033 volunteer participants at sites in eight countries. Once enrolled, participants were randomized to receive a treatment regimen of either oral baricitinib tablets and intravenous (IV) remdesivir or oral placebo tablets and IV remdesivir. In the study, the combination of baricitinib and remdesivir reduced median time to recovery in hospitalized COVID-19 patients from eight days to seven days. Patients who required high-flow oxygen or non-invasive ventilation during their hospitalization appeared to have had the largest benefit: their median time to recovery was shortened from 18 days to ten days. In addition, participants’ conditions at day 15 of the study (as measured by an eight-category ordinal scale which ranked the severity of their condition) was significantly improved when they received the two therapeutics combined. Recipients of the two treatments also had slightly fewer serious adverse effects.

The researchers caution that comparing this COVID-19 treatment regimen versus those with other therapeutics such as dexamethasone, is difficult without additional comparison studies. These results do appear to show that baricitinib plus remdesivir can benefit some COVID-19 patients and the combination deserves further clinical study, according to the researchers. [Source: National Institutes of Health | News Release | December 11, 2020 ++]

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Coronavirus Vaccines

Update 19: Gamble Pays Off | How They Made It to the Finish Line

Developers Barney Grahm, Katalin Kariko, Drew Weissman & the Coronavirus Spike Protein

On a Sunday afternoon in early November 2020, scientist Barney Graham got a call at his home office in Rockville, Md., where he has sequestered himself for most of the last 10 months, working relentlessly to develop a vaccine to vanquish a killer virus. It was Graham’s boss at the National Institutes of Health, with an early head’s-up on news the world would learn the next morning: A coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and the German biotech firm BioNTech that used a new genetic technology and a specially designed spike protein from Graham and collaborators had proved stunningly effective.

The significance of the news was clear right away to Graham: There could be not one, but two vaccines by year’s end. If the Pfizer vaccine worked well, odds were good for a vaccine from biotechnology firm Moderna, since they both relied on the spike protein that Graham’s lab helped design and a technology never before harnessed in an approved vaccine. For months, people had asked Graham about the pressure he must have been feeling on the leading edge of an all-hands effort to invent the tools that could end the pandemic. He was too busy to give it much thought — his summer “vacation” had meant scaling back to 40- to 50-hour workweeks. But the news released a gush of emotion that stunned even him. “I just let it all go,” Graham said. “I was sobbing, I guess, is the term.” His son and grandchildren, ages 13 and 5, burst into his office, fearing something had gone terribly wrong.

The world’s hopes have weighed heavily on the quest to develop coronavirus vaccines, with an especially intense focus on two front-runners: one from Moderna, the other from Pfizer and BioNTech. Both were a speedy, but risky — even controversial — bet, based on a promising but still-experimental medical technology. Why, some scientists debated in the spring and summer, would the United States gamble on a type of vaccine that had never been deployed beyond clinical trials, when the stakes were so high? If, as expected in the next few weeks, regulators give those vaccines the green light, the technology and the precision approach to vaccine design could turn out to be the pandemic’s silver linings: scientific breakthroughs that could begin to change the trajectory of the virus this winter and also pave the way for highly effective vaccines and treatments for other diseases.

Vaccine development typically takes years, even decades. The progress of the last 11 months shifts the paradigm for what’s possible, creating a new model for vaccine development and a toolset for a world that will have to fight more never-before-seen viruses in years to come. But the pandemic wasn’t a sudden eureka moment — it was a catalyst that helped ignite lines of research that had been moving forward for years, far outside the spotlight of a global crisis. The Vaccine Research Center, where Graham is deputy director, was the brainchild of Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It was created in 1997 to bring together scientists and physicians from different disciplines to defeat diseases, with a heavy focus on HIV.

Long before the pandemic, Graham worked with colleagues there and in academia to create a particularly accurate 3-D version of the spiky proteins that protrude from the surface of coronaviruses — an innovation that was rejected for publication by scientific journals five times because reviewers questioned its relevance. His laboratory partnered with one of the companies, Moderna, working to develop a fast and flexible vaccine technology, in the hope that science would be ready to respond when a pandemic appeared. “People hear about [vaccine progress] and think someone just thought about it that night. The amount of work — it’s really a beautiful story of fundamental basic research,” Fauci said. “It was chancy, in the sense that (the vaccine technology) was new. We were aware there would be pushback. The proof in the pudding is a spectacular success.”

Starts and stops

The leading coronavirus vaccine candidates in the United States began their development not in January when a mysterious pneumonia emerged in Wuhan, China, but decades ago — with starts and stops along the way. Since 1961, scientists had known about messenger RNA, the transient genetic material that makes life possible, taking the instructions inscribed in DNA and delivering those to the protein-making parts of the cell. Messenger RNA is a powerful, if fickle, component of life’s building blocks — a workhorse of the cell that is also truly just a messenger, unstable and prone to degrade.

Some scientists believed from the start that it would be possible to repurpose this basic cellular function for medicine. In 1990, a Hungarian-born scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, Katalin Kariko, brashly predicted to a surgeon colleague that his work would soon be obsolete, replaced by the power of messenger RNA therapies. That same year, a team at the University of Wisconsin startled the scientific world with a paper that showed it was possible to inject a snippet of messenger RNA into mice and turn their muscle cells into factories, creating proteins on demand. “That was something that was amazing,” said Melissa Moore, an RNA scientist who joined Moderna as chief scientific officer four years ago.

If custom-designed RNA snippets could be used to turn cells into bespoke protein factories, messenger RNA could become a powerful medical tool. It could encode fragments of virus to teach the immune system to defend against pathogens. It could also create whole proteins that are missing or damaged in people with devastating genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. But there were all kinds of practical problems to be solved first. Despite the excitement, scientists had trouble getting RNA into cells because it is so fragile. And when they succeeded, they would soon discover RNA caused an inflammatory reaction.

A friendly competition over a photocopier in the late 1990s led to a major breakthrough. Kariko, working in the University of Pennsylvania’s neurosurgery department, was trying to turn RNA into a therapy for strokes. In line, she bragged to Drew Weissman, a physician-scientist who worked in a different building but used the same copier to print out scientific articles, about the molecule she had become obsessed with. Weissman had done a fellowship in Fauci’s laboratory at NIH, studying the immune cells involved in vaccine responses. He asked Kariko if she could make some RNA for an HIV vaccine idea he was pursuing. She did, and he found the RNA stimulated an inflammatory response — bad news for Kariko’s efforts to turn it into a stroke therapy.

Weissman noted that mice injected with messenger RNA would suffer every side effect, from feeling lousy and losing their appetites to dying. The two began puzzling out a way to overcome the problems. But it was far from a hot area of science. Kariko bitterly recalled how she struggled for grants, making less money than many lab technicians. “We went to biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies to try and get funding, and they weren’t interested,” Weissman said. “They said RNA was too fragile and they didn’t want to work with it.” In 2005, the pair discovered a way to modify RNA, chemically tweaking one of the letters of its code, so it didn’t trigger an inflammatory response. Deborah Fuller, a scientist who works on RNA and DNA vaccines at the University of Washington, said that work deserves a Nobel Prize.

Kariko and Weissman set up a company to turn their discovery into medicine, but eventually, Kariko moved to BioNTech, a German firm working on developing RNA therapies — even though it meant leaving her husband in Philadelphia for 10 months of the year. “I told my husband when I decided to go to Germany, ‘I just want to live long enough that I can help the RNA go to the patient,’ ” Kariko said. ” ‘I want to see … at least one person would be helped with this treatment.’ ”

In parallel, scientists had been developing ways to encapsulate and transport large and unwieldy molecules beginning in the 1960s. The technology matured over the decades, with hopes it could be used to deliver entirely new types of drugs into cells, but messenger RNA posed a bigger challenge than other targets. “It’s tougher — it’s a much bigger molecule, it’s much more unstable,” said Robert Langer, a bioengineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-founder of Moderna. Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, said it was thrilling when he and colleagues in 2016 developed a nanoparticle to deliver messenger RNA to a special cell type that could take the code and turn it into a protein on its surface to provoke the immune system. This, they theorized, was key to using a tiny amount of material — each dose of mRNA vaccine his company developed against coronavirus relies on an amount that’s about a fifth the weight of a penny to stimulate a powerful immune response.

Unlike fields that were sparked by a single powerful insight, Sahin said that the recent success of messenger RNA vaccines is a story of countless improvements that turned an alluring biological idea into a beneficial technology. “This is a field which benefited from hundreds of inventions,” said Sahin, who noted that when he started BioNTech in 2008, he cautioned investors that the technology would not yield a product for at least a decade. He kept his word: Until the coronavirus sped things along, BioNTech projected the launch of its first commercial project in 2023.

Messenger RNA has never been used in an approved medical product, an oft-repeated fact that has added to its mystique. There isn’t yet a long safety track record, but the platform has been in human tests for years, including in tens of thousands of people in the coronavirus vaccine trials. Even before the coronavirus emerged, the technology had reached a tipping point where it seemed a matter of time before it would begin to have an impact on medicine. “It’s new to you,” Fuller said. “But for basic researchers, it’s been long enough. … Even before covid, everyone was talking: RNA, RNA, RNA.”

Messenger RNA

All vaccines are based on the same underlying idea: training the immune system to block a virus. Old-fashioned vaccines do this work by injecting dead or weakened viruses. Newer vaccines use distinctive bits of the virus, such as proteins on their surface, to teach the lesson. The latest genetic techniques, like messenger RNA, don’t take as long to develop because those virus bits don’t have to be generated in a lab. Instead, the vaccine delivers a genetic code that instructs cells to build those characteristic proteins themselves.

To do that, scientists have to choose which telltale part of the virus to show the immune system. Long before the pandemic, Graham’s research had revealed that some virus proteins change shape after they break into a person’s cells. A vaccine based on the wrong shape could effectively train the immune system to be an ineffective sheriff, never stopping vandals or burglars before they wreak their havoc. Graham had used this insight to design a better vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus; it made Science magazine’s short list of 2013′s most important scientific breakthroughs.

Coronaviruses seemed like an important next target. Severe acute respiratory syndrome had emerged in 2003. Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) broke out in 2012. It seemed clear to Graham and Jason McLellan, a structural biologist now at the University of Texas at Austin, that new coronaviruses were jumping into people on a 10-year-clock and it might be time to brace for the next one. When a postdoctoral fellow in Graham’s laboratory traveled to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and returned home with a respiratory infection, Graham and colleagues worried that it might be MERS. To their relief, it was not MERS, but HKU1 — a coronavirus that causes common cold symptoms.

That infection opened Graham’s eyes to an opportunity. HKU1 was merely a nuisance, as opposed to a deadly pneumonia; that meant it would be easier to work with in the lab, since researchers wouldn’t have to don layers of protective gear and work in a pressurized laboratory. If they could figure out how to stabilize the spike proteins for HKU1, they could use those insights to do the same for other coronaviruses. Their studies showed that the spike protein folded like origami, from a thumb tack-like shape before fusing with cells, to a rodlike shape afterward. They wanted the immune system to learn to recognize the thumb tack spike, so McLellan tasked a scientist in his laboratory with identifying genetic mutations that could anchor the protein into the right configuration. It was a painstaking process for Nianshuang Wang, who now works at a biotechnology company, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. After trying hundreds of genetic mutations, he found two that worked. Five journals rejected the finding, questioning its significance, before it was published in 2017.

“People generally at that time said, ‘Coronavirus is not a big concern,’ ” Wang said. “They didn’t get the idea that this can be a great technology in the disease, to prevent another coronavirus pandemic.” Last winter, when Graham heard rumblings of a new coronavirus in China, he brought the team back together. Once its genome was shared online by Chinese scientists, the laboratories in Texas and Maryland designed a vaccine, utilizing the stabilizing mutations and the knowledge they had gained from years of basic research — a weekend project thanks to the dividends of all that past work. But the stabilized spike was just one piece of a vaccine — Graham needed a technology that could deliver it into the body — and had already been working with Moderna, using its messenger RNA technology to create a vaccine against a different bat virus, Nipah, as a dress rehearsal for a real pandemic. Moderna and NIH set the Nipah project aside and decided to go forward with a coronavirus vaccine.

On 13 JAN 2020, Moderna’s Moore came into work and found her team already busy translating the stabilized spike protein into their platform. The company could start making the vaccine almost right away because of its experience manufacturing experimental cancer vaccines, which involves taking tumor samples and developing personalized vaccines in 45 days. At BioNTech, Sahin said that even in the early design phases of its vaccine candidates, he incorporated the slight genetic changes designed in Graham’s lab that would make the spike look more like the real thing. At least two other companies would incorporate that same spike.

Pharmaceutical industry fairy tale

If all goes well with regulators, the coronavirus vaccines have the makings of a pharmaceutical industry fairy tale. The world faced an unparalleled threat, and companies leaped into the fight. Pfizer plowed $2 billion into the effort. Massive infusions of government cash helped remove the financial risks for Moderna. But the world will also owe their existence to many scientists outside those companies, in government and academia who pursued ideas they thought were important even when the world doubted them. Some of those scientists will receive remuneration, since their inventions are licensed and integrated into the products that could save the world.

As executives become billionaires, many scientists think it is fair to earn money from their inventions that can help them do more important work. But McLellan’s laboratory at the University of Texas is proud to have licensed an even more potent version of their spike protein, royalty-free, to be incorporated into a vaccine for low and middle income countries. Weissman, a basic researcher who has been nervously tracking the progress of the RNA vaccines on which so much depend, was overjoyed by the first success. “They’re using the technology that (Kariko) and I developed,” he said. “We feel like it’s our vaccine, and we are incredibly excited — at how well it’s going, and how it’s going to be used to get rid of this pandemic.”

On 9 NOV, McLellan told his group via a WhatsApp thread that the first vaccine was 90% effective. “Full spike with 2P,” McLellan wrote, referencing the fact that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine used a spike protein that contained the mutations they’d discovered. “Barney just called to congratulate us.” Graham is matter-of-fact, rather than exuberant, and quickly changes the subject to the immense amount of work that remains to be done. Historic scientific news must now be transformed into a tool that is mass produced, distributed and used widely around the world to blunt the sickness and suffering of this winter – and to lift the pall this pandemic has cast over virtually every aspect of daily life.

Graham recalled that his 5-year-old granddaughter recently heard the family talking about “getting back to normal” if a vaccine is successful. “She looked up and said, ‘What is normal life, what do you mean by that?’ “, Graham said.”Half of her memorable life has been like this.” [Source: Stars & Strips | Carolyn Y. Johnson | December 6, 2020 ++]

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Sickle Cell Trait

Army Begins Testing Recruits

The Army has begun testing new recruits for the sickle cell trait, an inherited gene that can present health challenges when carriers face conditions with low oxygen levels, increased atmospheric pressure, high altitudes or dehydration. The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command started screenings to both understand how the trait may impact soldiers and how to help soldiers treat the lifelong condition, said Maj. Sean Donohue, TRADOC command surgeon, in an Army statement. “On the enlisted side, recruits [at basic combat training] are now tested as part of their initial screening exam,” Donohue said. The SCT tests are grouped in “with a variety of other blood samples as part of initial processing.”

Testing will be added to annual assessments for all soldiers starting this year. The Air Force is now asking airmen about the sickle cell trait before they take their PT assessment, after sickle cell-related deaths earlier this year. In late 2019, following physical training-related deaths linked to the trait, the Air Force began asking airmen to disclose if they had the condition on their mandatory fitness screening questionnaires, Air Force Times reported. Three airmen died in 2019 after PT tests. Senior Airman Amalia Joseph died May 26, days after experiencing a medical emergency following her run on a track at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. On June 1, 2019, Senior Airman Aaron Hall died June 1, a few days after a similar emergency at Shaw’s other running track.

Capt. Tranay Lashawn Tanner died 17 AUG at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida after exhibiting health issues following her PT test completion the previous day. Tanner had a diagnosis of the sickle cell trait, though she had not had any complications related to it, or any previous medical complications during or after exercise or fitness assessments. Air Force officials confirmed at the time that some of the deaths were linked to the sickle cell trait. The Navy has also faced a similar tragedy with at least one of its new recruits in recent years. In early 2019, Seaman Recruit Kelsey Nobles, 18, collapsed while running her final physical fitness test at Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, Illinois. Nobles had been diagnosed with the sickle cell trait, Navy Times reported. Two months earlier, Seaman Recruit Kierra Evans, 20, had died following physical training at Great Lakes. An autopsy later linked her death to rhabdomyolysis, or the breakdown of muscle brought on by extreme exertion but added the sickle cell trait as a contributing factor.

Complications associated with the sickle cell trait include low oxygen levels, elevated atmospheric pressure, and dehydration, Donohue said. Symptoms can include fatigue, extreme thirst, headache, confusion and dizziness. In the month of testing, the Army has found that an estimated 2 percent of recruits have been diagnosed with the blood disorder. That mirrors the national average. The Centers for Disease Control notes that about 3 million people in the United States have the trait and many are unaware of the condition. An estimated one in 12 African Americans are affected by the disorder, though many may not have any symptoms of sickle cell disease. By comparison, the Hispanic community show roughly one in 180, and in the Caucasian community it’s around one in 600, according to the CDC. “It’s still important to remember that although there are higher rates in certain ethnic populations, anyone can have the trait,” Donohue said.

Having the trait does not automatically lead to the disease. With the disease, “red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a ‘sickle,’” according to the CDC. “The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. Also, when they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems.” The trait does not prevent soldiers from serving nor prohibit them from any military occupational specialty, according to the statement. Staff meet with recruits whose bloodwork indicates they have the trait and then provide them with counseling to educate them on the condition.

On the observer side, Army officials hope that by finding the trait early in service, it could help in situations where diagnosing a heat-related injury might actually be related to sickle cell. That’s already been part of training for new drill sergeants. “We’ve been doing this at our Drill Sergeant Academy, in particular, and educating them on what exertional collapse related to sickle cell looks like,” Donohue said. The testing will move beyond recruits soon. “This is an Army-wide operation,” Donohue said. “As Soldiers do their annual health assessment, if they don’t have a [SCT] test on their health record they will [receive] one.” [Source: ArmyTimes Tod South | December 1, 2020 ++]

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Constipation

Tips to Relieve It Naturally

Our lifestyle, eating habits, age, gender, and health status affect our bowel movements. While there’s no set number of bowel movements a person should have, it’s not normal to go less than 4 times a week. Constipation is the reason why some people have irregular, hard, and difficult to pass bowel movements. Constipation is quite uncomfortable to have, but many people face it from time to time, especially those taking medicines or pregnant. If we look at the reasons, there are plenty of them. Talking about the problems, a person may face the following things if they have constipation:

  • Fewer than 3 or 4 bowel movements a week.
  • Hard or difficult to pass stool.
  • Pain during the passing of stool.
  • Feeling that not all the stool has been passed.

It is not something incurable. You can get rid of constipation with a few natural remedies. First of all, let us understand why constipation happens in the first place?

  • Constipation usually occurs when the waste in our body moves slowly through the digestive tract or cannot be eliminated from the rectum that can make stool dry and hard.
  • Age plays a vital role in your bowel movements. Older people are less active and have a slower metabolism and less muscle contraction strength along their digestive tract.
  • Pregnant women or someone who recently gave birth go through constipation due to the changes in their hormones.
  • If someone doesn’t eat enough high-fiber food, their digestion system may not work as efficiently.
  • Taking certain medications can also upset your stomach.
  • Underlying medical problems could be responsible for constipation. People suffering from stroke, diabetes, thyroid, or hormonal problems usually experience constipation and have issues with the colon or rectum, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Another reason could be misuse or overuse of laxatives, which are meant to loosen up the stools.

Following are six remedies to cure constipation. The best part is you can do all of these at the comfort of your home without taking extra pain.

1 Drinking-Water is Key — Dehydration can make you constipated. That is why it is vital to drink enough fluids and stay hydrated. Drinking water helps the food to move through your digestive system and stop stool from hardening. According to some studies, carbonated or sparkling water is more effective than tap water. However, in our opinion, drinking carbonated drinks such as soda is not a good idea as they have harmful effects that make constipation worse.

2. Eat More Fiber — Even doctors recommend increasing dietary fiber in case of constipation. You can eat two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber soaks up the water and helps to keep your stool soft. At the same time, insoluble fiber helps to add bulk to your stool that moves it through your digestive system faster. You can eat the following to increase fiber content in your diet:

  • Whole grain bread
  • Oats
  • Rice and beans
  • Vegetables and fruits are rich in fiber.

Note: With these food items, make sure you drink a lot of water to push your stool further in the process.

3. Don’t Forget to Work Out — Various studies showed that working out can help improve symptoms of constipation. Less active people are more prone to have constipation. That is why some health care experts recommend to work out more. You don’t have to rush to the gym; regular walking, cycling, or even swimming would be fine. If you feel sleepy after a heavy meal, try to walk around instead of lying down immediately. This kick starts the digestion process and can help you prevent that full feeling.

4. Tea Could Be Useful — Warm liquids can be soothing to gastrointestinal systems. You can have the following teas if you’re experiencing constipation:

  • Peppermint – The menthol in peppermint tea can soothe an upset stomach.
  • Chamomile – Chamomile can help relax the digestive muscles, preventing the bowels from moving on their own.
  • Ginger – Ginger is a warming spice that can speed up the digestion process.
  • Green or Black Tea – Caffeinated tea works similarly to coffee in stimulating bowel movements.

5. Lemon Water Is No Less Effective — The citric acid in lemon water can help push out toxins from your body and act as stimulants to your digestive system. You can squeeze a lemon into a glass of water every morning, or you can add lemon to the tea. Lemon water not only helps to relieve constipation but also helps you drink more water during the day. You can also warm up the water and squeeze a lemon into it as warm fluids help to soothe your upset stomach.

6. Abdominal Massage — Massaging your abdomen may help to relax your muscles. This eventually helps to stimulate digestion and relieve constipation. It can also help to relieve gas and to reduce the chances that you’ll need medical attention. You can massage yourself in a comfortable and quiet environment.

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When to See a Doctor — Constipation can make it challenging for you to concentrate on daily routine tasks. If you have tried all the treatments and see no improvement for a week, maybe it’s time to see a doctor. Along with constipation, if you’re experiencing dizziness, cramps, or spasms, you should see a doctor immediately. Constipation could be a symptom of more significant health problems. That is why it’s advisable to consult a health provider if the problem doesn’t resolve at your end.

The Bottom Line — There’s nothing you should get worried about. In most cases, constipation can be treated with home remedies or prescribed medications. The remedies mentioned are completely safe in case you don’t have any specific allergies. You can try all these remedies and see what works for you. Many people suffering from constipation choose self-treatment by making changes in their lifestyle, diet, workout, and eating habits. Some even prefer over-the-counter laxatives. However, it is not recommended using laxatives without consulting a doctor; This is because your body can depend on them for everyday functions. If you have blood in your stool, this isn’t something that can be self-treated. In this case, you should immediately see a doctor.

[Source: Aging Healthy Today | November 30, 2020 ++]

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Sinusitis

Update 04: Congestion Relief

Sinus congestion is when fluid is jammed in your nose’s sinuses, making it feel very painful and blocked. You can use natural home remedies to feel more comfortable, like steam inhalation, applying a moistened, warm towel on your face, and hydration. Sinus congestion can be caused due to many reasons; Colds and fevers are one of them. Apart from these, many bacterial infections can occasionally cause sinus congestion to an individual. A person suffering from sinus congestion can also experience headaches, sore throat, runny or blocked nose, fatigue, and coughing. There are many treatments and medical systems available that can help you provide relief. You can try many remedies other than proper medication at home to cure the condition of the sinus. This article lists eight natural home remedies that can help in sinus congestion.

Staying Hydrated

When suffering from sinus congestion, your mucous membrane can feel blocked and become inflamed. However, the intake of an ample amount of water and making yourself feel hydrated will aid in your membrane’s correct functioning. Having water and many other forms of fluid can help relieve the common symptoms of this condition. So it is highly recommended for a person suffering from this condition to keep a bottle of water nearby during the day, which will encourage them to have more water.

Breathing in Steam

This particular home remedy works perfectly well during the cold or winter season. Steam breathing keeps your mucous membrane moist and unblocks your sinus by providing relief from its symptoms. Apart from breathing in steam, if an individual takes a shower with very warm water and breathes in the steam, it can also cause unblocking and relief from the sinus. Using a humidifier can provide the same result.

Raising Your Head While Sleeping

This simple home remedy can help you by providing relief from sinus blockage by clearing it. It is a very simple remedy. One can raise the head on the pillow during sleep by adding some more pillows to prop their head up. However, if you keep your head level, there are more chances of building this condition.

Using Eucalyptus Oil

You should use eucalyptus oil as it has proven to be one of the most effective home remedies for this condition. When used, it provides relief to the person. It also kills all bacteria and germs out and in your nasal passage, which may contribute to sinus congestion. There are many ways of using eucalyptus oil for better results. You can apply it with tissue paper, keep it next to your bed, or you can add it to warm water and inhale it by steaming.

Applying a Warm, Wet Towel

One of the oldest and most effective remedies is applying a warm and wet towel against your face. This remedy tends to provide relief from inflammation and swelling caused by congestion of the sinus. It can help your mucous membrane to function properly by keeping it moist through inhaling moist air. This remedy is straightforward to use by soaking a towel in lukewarm water, squeeze it well to drain excess water and wrap it all over your face for nearly 10 to 15 minutes.

Usong a Neti Pot

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This pot is one of the advanced technologies. It is a small device in the shape of a teapot that helps a person put some saltwater solution down his nasal passage. This technique helps in keeping your mucous membrane moist and unblocked, allowing it to function properly. This device also helps in clearing all the germs and bacteria. The microbes may be causing the blockage and tend to provide relief from all the symptoms of sinus. Make sure to clean the device and read the instructions before use.

Spicy Food

Much research has shown that eating spicy food like peppers and hot mustard can help clean and open your nasal passage and relieve pain and inflammation caused by sinus congestion. It is said that capsicum, one of the most active chilies, can help relieve this condition.

Nasal Spray

Many nasal sprays are available in the market that provides relief from sinus congestion. Sinus and nasal congestion can be caused because of fever, cold, or upper respiratory allergies. Nasal sprays are considered a speedy and active remedy that provides relief a few minutes after its use. They provide relief by shrinking the swollen nasal membrane so you can breathe properly.

-o-o-O-o-o-

Suffering from sinus congestion is not a joke as a person may be feeling a lot of pain and pressure. All the viruses, cold and bacterial infection can be the major cause of this condition. It can be treated through proper medication. Many reasons can cause this condition, like cigarette smoking or traveling on a plane due to the flight pressure. The above-listed home remedies are straightforward and found easily around your home. [Source: Aging Healthy Today| November 30, 2020 ++]

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Prescription Drug Disposal

Update 08: Do It the Safest Way

Do you have expired or unwanted medications in your home? Protect your family against the misuse of prescription drugs by practicing proper disposal of unwanted medications. Proper disposal of medications can save lives and also protects the environment. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet.

The safest way to dispose of your medicine is to drop them off through a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) drug take back program, or dispose at home. Before disposing of prescription medicines, be sure to remove all personal information on prescription bottle labels and medicine packaging. Your medications will be destroyed after drop off. Search by zip code or city/state to find a year-round DEA collection site near you. For more information about a collection site, call the DEA Diversion Control Division Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539.

Dispose of Medications at Home

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, collection sites may be limited. If you are unable to find a collection location near you, you can dispose of unused medications at home. Follow these steps to safely dispose of your medications.

  • Take your prescription drugs out of their containers. Mix pills or liquids with an unpleasant substance, such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds. Do not crush pills.
  • Put the mixture in a container, such as a sealable plastic bag.
  • Throw the container away in your trash at home.
  • Scratch out all personal information, including Rx numbers, on the prescription labels of empty medication bottles or packaging, then throw them away or recycle them.

Some medications have specific disposal instructions. Check the FDA’s flush list to see if your medicine is on the list. At https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/where-and-how-dispose-unused-medicines can be found guidelines for appropriate disposal of medications. [Source: Express Scripts | December 8, 2020 ++]

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TRICARE Caregiver

How to Become One

November was National Family Caregiver month and is dedicated to the 40 million caregivers across the country. A caregiver can be a family member, friend, in-home nurse, or anyone who helps manage medication for a TRICARE member. Adding someone as a “designated caregiver” to a TRICARE member’s account makes it easy to help them. If you need to manage medications for someone who is a TRICARE member, then that person must create an account and give you access to their account by making you their “designated caregiver”. As a caregiver, you can order prescriptions, check order status, set account preferences, and answer questions about orders like where to ship the member’s medication or how to pay.

How to add a caregiver to a TRICARE account

To add a caregiver, the all TRICARE member need do is go to https://militaryrx.express-scripts.com and click “log in” to open their account. Then enter your‘User Name’ and ‘Password’ to open the Express Scripts dashboard. Select ‘Account’ at the top of the page and click on ‘Add a Caregiver’ in the menu that will display. Then input the caregiver’s name, phone number, email address, and date of birth. A TRICARE member can have up to eight designated caregivers on their account. If you are a caregiver and hold a person’s power of attorney (POA), your client still must designate you as a caregiver using the Add a Caregiver page.

Caregiving and COVID-19

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two out of every three caregivers in the United States are women. Women who are caregivers are at a higher risk for poor physical and mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of staying at home can add more stressors to caregiving. If you are a caregiver, taking care of yourself and asking for support are important ways to maintain your health. Take care of your emotional wellness with these tips:

  • Connect with others. Caregiving can be an isolating experience. It’s important to connect with friends and family and ask for support.
  • Practice relaxation. Manage your stress by practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises which involve taking slow, deep breaths throughout the day.
  • Take care of your physical health. Take steps to boost your immune system by exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting good sleep.
  • Develop a care plan. This plan can include a summary of health conditions, medication treatment, and a list of healthcare providers and emergency contacts associated with the recipient of care.

Express Scripps thank all caregivers in the healthcare community who dedicate their time to providing support to those in need. Visit the CDC website https://www.cdc.gov/aging/caregiving/index.htm for additional caregiving resources. [Source: Express Scripps | December 8, 2020 ++]

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TRICARE Flu Shots

Update 05: Seasonal Flu Vaccine FAQ

Keep your immune system strong this year by obtaining a flu vaccine. Learn more about how to get your free flu shot with your TRICARE pharmacy benefit. If you are an Active Duty service member, you are required to get the flu vaccine. You have priority to get the vaccine at military immunization clinics and you can also get vaccines at participating network pharmacies, or from a TRICARE-authorized provider.

(Q) Where can I obtain my seasonal flu vaccine for free?

(A) You and your covered family members have options for obtaining a free flu vaccine through your TRICARE pharmacy benefit.

  • Military Immunization Clinic — Find a military hospital or clinic that offers vaccines. If your military immunization clinic is closed, you can visit a retail network pharmacy or see a TRICARE authorized provider.
  • TRICARE Retail Network Pharmacy — To receive free vaccinations at a participating network pharmacy, visit militaryrx.express-scripts.com  and select the find a pharmacy tool. Once you select your network pharmacy, follow guidance from that pharmacy for vaccine availability and appointment scheduling. Make sure the vaccine is scheduled through the pharmacy as onsite health clinics may require a copayment.
  • TRICARE Authorized Provider — You can get a covered flu vaccine from any TRICARE-authorized provider at no cost. You may have to pay copayments or cost-shares for the office visit or for other services received during the same visit.

(Q) What steps do I need to take before getting a flu vaccine from a participating network pharmacy?

(A) After you select your network pharmacy, contact the pharmacy and ask about vaccine availability, if a pharmacist is available to give the vaccine, and if there are any restrictions, including for children.

If your state has a restriction, you should go to your healthcare provider or a military immunization clinic for the flu vaccine.

(Q) Will I have to pay a copayment for my flu shot at a participating network pharmacy?

(A) TRICARE beneficiaries can receive free flu vaccines through a participating network pharmacy. Be sure to have your military ID and obtain the flu vaccine from a pharmacist, not an onsite clinic provider to avoid a copayment.

(Q) Can I obtain other vaccines from the pharmacist at a participating network pharmacy?

(A) If you need additional immunizations, ask your doctor to write a prescription and send it to the pharmacy and the pharmacist can give the vaccinations. Review TRICARE’s list of covered vaccines.

(Q) Who is eligible to receive a flu vaccine?

(A) The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone aged 6 months and older receive an annual flu vaccine. It is particularly important for groups of people listed below:

  • Young children
  • Pregnant women
  • Adults age 65 and over
  • Essential workers: (healthcare personnel, pharmacy staff, and nursing home or long-term care facility residents)
  • Racial/ethnic minority groups
  • People with underlying health conditions

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions regarding which flu vaccines are best for you and your family.

(Q) When should I get my flu vaccine?

(A) According to the CDC, the flu season in the United States occurs during the fall and winter. Flu activity peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May. The CDC recommends obtaining an annual flu vaccine early in fall and by the end of October. After vaccination, it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against flu.

(Q) Will a flu vaccine prevent me from getting COVID-19?

(A) The flu vaccine will not prevent COVID-19, but it has been shown to reduce the risk of flu infection and illness, hospitalization and death. Follow recommendations from the CDC, adhere by social distancing guidelines and wear a facemask to limit exposure to COVID-19 and the flu.

Getting a flu vaccine this flu season is more important than ever to protect yourself and the people around you from flu. It can also help reduce the burden on healthcare workers as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

[Source: Express Scripps| December 8, 2020 ++]

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Alcohol Use

Update 02: Unhealthiest Choices

Drinking alcohol is supposed to be fun – as long as you don’t get addicted to it. It helps bring a bit of joy into your otherwise dreary life. But hey, did you know that some alcohol types can have potential health benefits, too? For example, red wine. Studies show that red wine is rich in polyphenols that support heart health and level up good cholesterol in the blood. On the contrary, there is a myriad of alcoholic drinks that can be bad for you. These top 8 unhealthiest alcohol choices should never be on your drinking list if you are diet-conscious, fitness-freak, or aiming to lose weight. Having said that, consuming these drinks in small quantities won’t cause any drastic weight gain or put your health at risk, so be mindful about the level of intake of these sugary or calorie-based drinks.

Beer

Beer is known to be a heavy alcohol choice that can be bad for you if consumed excessively. Even though drinking it in moderation can provide you with potassium and vitamin B, increasing its intake can eliminate all its potential benefits. Research shows that drinking too much beer can contribute to bad carbs in your body, increasing the risk of obesity, alcoholism, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Reportedly, heavy drinkers of beer have had suffered from a heart stroke, high blood pressure, colon, and breast cancer.

Pina Coladas

Pina Coladas are sweet fruity cocktails made from light rum. The alcoholic drink also contains pineapples and coconut milk or coconut cream. Even though Pina Coladas give your hot summers a tropical feel, they are unhealthy nonetheless. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news; Pina Coladas are filled with tons of fat, sugar, and calories that can prove to be ugly for your health. It’s been reported that a single glass of Pina Colada can have more calories than a Big Mac!

Margarita

This Mexican cocktail gets its tanginess with a touch of sweet flavor from the combination of tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur. Whether you make it at home or order it at a bar, the margarita is loaded with sodium, increasing the risk of diabetes. The drink becomes unhealthier when mixed with multiple sweet liquors along with tequila or triple sec. It is believed that the result could supply your body with 850 calories!

Mai Tai

Prepared from rum, curacao, lime juice, and orgeat syrup, this quintessential cocktail may seem like a perfect summer drink. But as it turns out, the Mai Tai is one of the unhealthiest alcohol choices you can ever make. The tropic drink contains a great quantity of rum, which, as it is reported, has about 100 calories in one fluid ounce. Also, orgeat syrup is laden with sugar, increasing the number of calories in the seemingly harmless drink!

Daiquiri

The main ingredients of the daiquiri are rum, sugar, citrus juice, and other artificial sweeteners. As you can see, this drink is made from high-calorie products, making it one of the unhealthiest alcohol choices out there. Often, the daiquiri is served in huge goblets at bars and parties, packing in hundreds of calories at once. Generally, a glass of the daiquiri can have about 186 calories. When served with a fruit – strawberry or raspberry, the cocktail supplies about 220 calories!

Long Island Iced Tea

This alcoholic drink is usually made from vodka, gin, tequila, light rum, or triple sec with a soda splash. Apart from these liquors, the iced tea cocktail is loaded with flavors that make it taste quite sweet. Long Island Iced Tea is notorious for being a high-calorie drink, so if you are on a well-balanced diet, you would want to steer clear from this alcoholic drink. One of the world’s most fattening drinks, long island iced tea packs about 780 calories!

Cognac

Cognac is a popular type of brandy that is produced by distilling white wines two times. For being a barrel-aged spirit, cognac is known to be one of the most expensive alcoholic drinks. Even though cognac tastes divine and may seem worth every penny, it isn’t really so for health-conscious people.  Did you know that cognac crams about 105 calories per 1.5 ounces shot? This means it has almost 45 more calories than its cousin whiskey! As long as you consume cognac in moderation, you are safe. Drinking cognac excessively can be dangerous for your health.

White Russian

The White Russian is a classic cocktail containing three main ingredients vodka, cream, and coffee liqueur, and is served with ice in old-fashioned glasses. While The White Russian tastes yum, it is one of the least healthy alcoholic drinks. It is chockfull of high-calorie ingredients that can set you back at 590 calories! Containing excessive amounts of sugar and saturated fat, the White Russian is shockingly bad for you. It is reported that drinking one glass of the White Russian is similar to eating a value meal at McDonald’s.

[Source: Aging Healthy Today | December 5, 2020 ++]

* Finances *

U.S. Dollar banknotes are seen in a box at the Money Service Austria company's headquarters in Vienna

SBP DIC Offset

Update 65: Q&A for Impacted Beneficiaries

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 modified the law that requires an offset of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments for surviving spouses who are also entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the VA. January 1, 2021 begins the first phase of the “Phase-Out of Reduction of SBP Survivor Annuities by Amount of DIC. Spouse SBP annuitants who are subject to the offset may see the first change in the SBP annuity payment they receive on 1 FEB. Following is a Q&A series for those potentially impacted by this change:

Q1.1: Who will be impacted by the repeal of the SBP-DIC offset? A1.1: This change affects surviving spouses who are, or who will become in the future, eligible for both Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments, and who were previously subject to a full or partial SBP-DIC offset.  The law also impacts the children of service members who died while on active duty or inactive duty, in the line of duty, who are currently receiving SBP payments because the surviving spouse chose the optional child annuity.  It does not impact surviving spouses who receive only SBP but not DIC.  It also does not impact spouses who are in receipt of DIC-only, either because SBP was declined by the service member at retirement or because the service member was a disabled veteran who was not also a retiree.  It is important to note that this change does not impact any retirees or surviving spouses if SBP coverage was previously declined, and does not create opportunities for new enrollment in SBP for retirees who previously declined coverage.

Q1.2: Does every widow/widower of a service member who dies in the line of duty get SBP? A1.2: In most cases, a surviving widow or widower whose spouse dies on active or inactive duty in the line of duty on or after September 10, 2001, and who remains unmarried prior to age 55 (see question 1.4) qualifies for a SBP annuity.  The only exception would be in situations in which a former spouse of the service member had been awarded SBP as a result of a divorce court order and the necessary former spouse SBP election was registered prior to the death of the service member.  Survivors of members who died in the line of duty prior to September 10, 2001, are not eligible to receive SBP.  Certain surviving spouses of members who died in the line of duty on or after October 7, 2001, were eligible to transfer the SBP annuity to a dependent child, which is referred to as an “Optional Child Annuity.”  This topic is discussed in Section 4 of these FAQs.

Q1.3: If I was not subject to the DIC-SBP offset before, does this change affect me? A1.3: Most likely not.  The change only impacts those surviving spouses who were previously subject to the SBP-DIC offset, and those surviving spouses and children of members who died in the line of duty if the spouse chose to transfer the SBP benefit to a child or children.  This law does not create new beneficiaries nor change the eligibility criteria for SBP or DIC.

Q1.4: What if I got remarried, will I still get the SBP benefit? A1.4: Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 did not change the eligibility requirements for the  SBP.  If a surviving spouse remarries prior to age 55, he or she is ineligible to continue receiving SBP.  If he or she remarries after turning age 55, that spouse does remain eligible to continue receiving the SBP annuity.  Note that rules for remarriage differ under the Department of Veterans Affairs (DIC) program.

Q1.5: Will I lose Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) at a certain age? A1.5: No, SBP is a life-long benefit for spouses.  Eligibility does not depend on the age of surviving spouse.  Unless the surviving spouse re-marries before the age of 55, he or she will not lose eligibility.  Re-marrying after turning age 55 will not cause the survivor to lose eligibility for SBP.

Q1.6: When I retired my spouse and I declined coverage because I’m totally disabled and we knew my spouse would get Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) when I died and Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) would be offset.  Will she now be eligible for SBP? A1.6: No, an election to decline or reduce coverage at retirement is irrevocable, regardless of rationale.  Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 does not authorize retirees who previously declined or elected reduced coverage (such as electing child-only coverage at retirement) to re-enroll or change their level of coverage.

Q1.7: I used to participate in the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) but I withdrew when I was rated as totally disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  How does this change affect me? A1.7: Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 does not restore SBP enrollment for any retiree who previously voluntarily withdrew.  Withdrawal from SBP remains in effect as long as the retiree who withdrew is rated totally disabled.  If the retiree’s rating is later reduced below “totally disabled,” SBP coverage can be reinstated, but only if the retiree requests it within one year of the effective date of the reduction of the VA disability rating.

Q1.8: My spouse declined Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) when he retired.  I am receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from VA now because he died of a service-connected issue.  Will I now receive SBP also? A1.8: No, declining SBP at retirement is an irrevocable decision.  Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 does not grant the authority to reinstate SBP coverage if it was previously declined at retirement.

TIMING

Q2.1: When will the change go into effect? A2.2: Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 was signed into law on December 20, 2019; however, the actual adjustments to SBP payments for those affected by the change will begin in 2021.  The legislation phases in the repeal of the SBP-DIC offset from 2021 to 2023.  Survivors subject to the SBP-DIC offset will remain offset dollar-for-dollar in 2020.

Q2.2:  When will I see an increase in my Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments? A2.2: Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 phases in the elimination of the SBP-DIC offset in the following way:

In 2020, surviving spouses will continue to have their SBP offset by the full amount of DIC they receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • In 2021, SBP will be reduced by no more than two-thirds of the amount of DIC rather than by the entire amount of DIC, even though eligible surviving spouses will continue to receive the full amount of DIC.
  • In 2022, SBP will be reduced by no more than one-third of the amount of DIC received.
  • In 2023, the SBP-DIC offset will be eliminated in total, so that surviving spouses eligible for both programs will receive both SBP and DIC in full, effective January 1 (paid as of February 1).

Q2.3: Why can’t I receive the full Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) benefit starting this year? A2.3: Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 does not authorize any change to the calculation of the SBP-DIC offset prior to January 1, 2021.

Q2.4: When will I start receiving benefits in full? A2.4: Eligible survivors will start receiving SBP payments in full, without offset, beginning with their January 2023 entitlement, which will be paid on February 1, 2023.

Q2.5: Does any form, document, or supporting statement need to be submitted to take advantage of these increased Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments?  If yes, when is the cutoff date? A2.5: No, the increase in benefits will occur automatically for surviving spouses subject to the SBP-DIC offset.  All surviving spouses subject to the offset will have their benefit recalculated for the month of January 2021, which they will receive on February 1, 2021.  We would encourage you to ensure your contact and bank account information is updated through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s self-service portal, myPay.

Q2.6: If a person becomes a surviving spouse this year, would that person automatically start to receive both Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits? A2.6: First, in order to be eligible for both benefits the current or former military member must either have retired – and elected to participate in SBP – or died in the line of duty.  If retired, he or she must also have died of a service-connected disability for the surviving spouse to be eligible for DIC.  Less than 10 percent of surviving spouses qualify under both programs.  In 2020, all new surviving spouses remain subject to the SBP-DIC offset if eligible under both programs.  Those survivors will receive only the amount of SBP in excess of the amount of DIC they receive.  Beginning in 2021, new surviving spouses will receive the same increase in benefits as existing survivors.

PREMIUMS AND ANNUITIES

Q3.1: How much will the average survivor get? A3.1:  SBP annuity payments can vary for each beneficiary because they are based on a number of factors such as retirement date, length of service, pay grade, and disability rating of the sponsor.  There is no set amount, so each surviving spouse’s current and future SBP payments could be quite different.  We recommend reaching out to a financial counselor or retirement services office on your local installation to discuss individual amounts.

Q3.2: I am currently subject to the SBP-DIC offset.  Will I definitely get an increase? A3.2: Yes, eventually, although not all survivors will see an increase in the first year.  It is possible that if your SBP) payments are currently less than two-thirds of the amount of DIC, you may not see an increase in 2021.  For example, if you currently receive $1,500 from VA for DIC, but your gross SBP before offset is only $800, you would not see an increase in 2021 other than the normal annual COLA.  This is because your SBP amount, $800, is still less than the amount of DIC that would be subject to offset, which in this example would be $1,000 (i.e., $1,000 is two-thirds of the $1,500 DIC).  Eventually, though, you will see an increase as the SBP-DIC offset is further reduced in 2022 and then completely eliminated in 2023.

Q3.3: Now that the offset is being eliminated, will there be any back pay for the years we didn’t get Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments we paid for? A3.3: No, Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 does not authorize back payments.  Surviving spouses of retirees who were subject to the SBP-DIC offset received either a partial or full refund of premiums to account for the reduced SBP payments.

Q3.4: I received a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) premium refund once I started getting both SBP and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), will I have to pay it back? A3.4: No, if you previously received a refund of SBP premiums due to the SBP-DIC offset, you will not have to pay back that refund because of this change in the law.

Q3.5: What is the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA)? A3.5: The Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) is a payment made to surviving spouses subject to the SBP-DIC offset that partially restores some of the SBP amount that is offset.  SSIA is a set amount established by Congress and adjusted each year by a COLA, if applicable.  The SSIA rate for 2020 is $323 per month.  Surviving spouses subject to the SBP-DIC offset will continue to receive SSIA, up to the amount that is reduced from their SBP payment (i.e., until the offset is fully-repealed in 2023).

Q3.6: Will the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) be phased out?

A3.6: Eligible survivors will continue to receive SSIA, up to the prescribed maximum amount ($323 per month for 2020) or the amount of SBP that is offset due to DIC, whichever is less.  SSIA will no longer be paid once the SBP-DIC offset is fully eliminated in 2023 and surviving spouses receive the full amount of SBP and DIC concurrently, without offset.

CHILD ANNUITANTS

Q4.1: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 repealed the authority for optional annuities for dependent children.  What does this mean? A 4.1: When a currently-serving member dies in the line of duty on active or inactive duty, the surviving spouse has the option, in consultation with the Secretary of the Military Department, to choose to have the SBP annuity paid directly to a dependent child rather than to receive the benefit for him or herself.  This allows the surviving spouse to receive DIC from the Department of VA in full without it affecting the SBP payments.  SBP paid to the child or children of the deceased service member is not offset by DIC.  This provision is only allowed in situations in which the member died on active or inactive duty, in the line of duty, after October 7, 2001.  While it remains in effect for now, on January 1, 2023, this option will go away in accordance with Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.  Further, those annuities that were directed to a child rather than a surviving spouse will automatically revert to the surviving spouse, if he or she is still eligible, on January 1, 2023.

Q4.2: I chose the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) optional child annuity when my spouse died on active duty.  Will I now receive the SBP benefit? A4.2: Not yet, but you will eventually.  If your child is the designated SBP beneficiary, he or she will continue receiving the SBP payments until the SBP-DIC offset is fully eliminated in 2023.  As long as you did not remarry prior to age 55, the annuity will revert to you as the surviving spouse on January 1, 2023.  If your child or children lose eligibility because he or she reaches age 18 (or age 22 if a full-time student) prior to January 1, 2023, the annuity will be suspended until January 1, 2023, at which time it will revert to you.  See question 4.3 if your child or children has already lost SBP eligibility.

Q4.3: I gave the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to my child when my spouse died in the line of duty while still in military service, but she is no longer eligible because she is too old.  What happens now? A4.3:  The annuity remains suspended until January 1, 2023, at which point it will revert to you.  If you previously chose to transfer the SBP annuity to your child or children, and your child or children are no longer eligible for SBP, the SBP benefit will be restored to you, as the surviving spouse, beginning on January 1, 2023, as long as you did not remarry prior to age 55.

Q4.4: I previously chose the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) child annuity when my spouse died on active duty.  What do I need to do to ensure the payment comes back to me instead of my child? A4.4: You will be contacted by the appropriate military service prior to the annuity reverting to you as the surviving spouse on January 1, 2023.  You do not need to do anything at this time.

Q4.5: When my spouse retired from the military, he elected child-only Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).  Does this mean I will now get the SBP instead of my child? A4.5: No, the child remains the designated beneficiary for SBP.  Section 622 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 does not impact SBP Child-Only or Special Needs Trust (SNT) elections made by retirees and their spouses at retirement.  Spouse eligibility is not restored because the election of child-only or SNT coverage at retirement was irrevocable.  The section of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that discusses restoring eligibility to spouses refers only to certain situations in which the surviving spouses chose to transfer the benefit to a child following the death of a military member on active or inactive duty, in the line of duty, after October 7, 2001.

Q4.6: I am a retiree who elected spouse and child Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage? How will this change in the law affect that coverage? A4.6: This change in the law does not affect spouse and child SBP elections made by retirees.  If the elected coverage was for spouse and child, the child (if under age 18 or age 22 if a full-time student) will only become eligible for SBP if the spouse loses eligibility, for example a surviving spouse remarries before age 55 or the spouse passes away.

RESOURCES

Q5.1: I would like to learn more, where can I go?  A5.1: The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) has created this webpage to share information about the elimination of the SBP-DIC offset:   Additionally, you can contact Military One Source at 800-342-9647 or find other counseling options through the Military One Source website.

[Source: DFAS| http://go.usa.gov/xGfqd | December 2, 2020 ++]

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VA Loans

Update 02: Covid-19 Hardship Proposal would Allow Mortgage Payments by VA

A man holds a house key. (Stock image)

Veterans who are behind on their mortgages thanks to COVID-19 related hardships could soon have their overdue payments covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs under a proposed low-interest loan program. The plan, outlined in the Federal Register, could help about 60,000 veterans who hold VA home loans avoid eviction. The VA is seeking public comments on the plan through 7 JAN. A major provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) gives protection from eviction and a mortgage payment forbearance option for all borrowers suffering financial hardship due to the COVID-19 national emergency. Under the act, borrowers who cannot make their mortgage payments on time are temporarily saved from being kicked out of their homes. Another provision of the CARES act gave borrowers the option to delay or stop their mortgage payments for up to 360 days if they face COVID-related financial hardship.

But the eviction protection and payment delay allowances are slated to end 31 DEC. And with the end of the foreclosure moratorium rapidly approaching, the VA’s plan allows the government to pay any overdue mortgage payments for qualifying veterans. Under the proposal, any overdue mortgage payments that the holder of the VA-back mortgage has run up over the last nine months will be paid to the lender by the VA. The veteran will then have to pay back that money to the VA while they continue to make their regular mortgage payments. Those borrowers will have up to 10 years to repay any VA funds used for this program, with an up to five year delay before payments kick-in. VA plans to charge 1% interest on the loans. An estimated 33,000 and 60,000 veterans may qualify for the relief, according to the VA.

Those receiving this assistance from the VA will still have to work with their lender to figure out a mutually agreeable payment plan (forbearance) for future payments, and they will have to stick to that payment plan if they wish to remain in their homes. To qualify for the proposed program:

  • The borrower must have been up-to-date (or less than 30 days late) on their loan payments as of March 1, 2020.
  • The borrower must have received CARES Act forbearance from their lender and have missed at least one scheduled monthly payment since qualifying.
  • The veteran must have enough income to resume making monthly mortgage payments to their lender and have a debt to income ratio within acceptable levels.

[Source: Military.com | Jim Absher | December 8, 2020 ++]

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VA Debt

Update 11: Vet Billing to Restart in JAN

The Department of Veterans Affairs will start billing veterans again for medical debts in January, after pausing collections for nine months because of financial hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Last weekend, the department sent letters to veterans, notifying them of the balances they owe. Bills will start arriving in January. The billing is scheduled to restart at a time when many Americans are set to lose financial assistance, such as unemployment benefits and rent relief, unless Congress can soon come to a deal on more pandemic aid. VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said veterans will be given an option to make smaller monthly payments on their debt. Veterans facing financial hardship should work with the VA to make special arrangements, she said.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Z) questioned VA officials about the decision to restart billing during a Senate hearing 9 DEC. “We do not have the authority to waive” debt payments, said Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration. “We have delayed the collection of those debts until January, and it remains to be seen whether the economy will have been stabilized to the point where that’s appropriate.” President Donald Trump said 2 APR that the VA would postpone debt collections because of the pandemic. In August, the department said the suspension would end 31 DEC.

Sinema argued Wednesday that debt relief should continue for veterans. Millions of Americans have lost jobs during the pandemic, and food and housing insecurity have increased significantly. The veteran unemployment rate rose in November to 6.3% from 5.9% in October. In March, before the economic effects of the pandemic took hold, veteran unemployment was 3.8%.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to rage throughout the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicting between 12,600 and 23,400 news deaths during the last week of December. On Friday, the VA had 17,757 active cases – the most cases it has ever reported at one time. The department also reported 5,542 total deaths, an increase of 100 in the past two days. “Given the status of the pandemic right now, I think it’s reasonable to assume the financial situation in our country will not be better in January than it is now,” Sinema said. “I believe debt relief should be granted.”

Joe Chenelly, director of AMVETS, a national veterans’ organization, said his group has asked Congress to extend the pause in debt collections but has not received a response. “We haven’t heard much from veterans on this yet, which has us trying to determine how many really know what seemingly is coming,” he said. “The nation is not yet ready for this. With new shutdowns already occurring and worse spread being forecasted, it makes no sense to end this protection many need and are relying on.” To learn their account balances, veterans can call (866) 400-1238 or consult the revenue office at their local VA hospital, Noel said. They can pay their balances at pay.gov or by calling their revenue office or a national VA line at (888) 827-4817. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Nikki Wentling | December 11, 2020 ++]

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DFAS Pay Schedule

Retiree & Annuitant 2021

To help you plan for 2021, below is a list of the days you should expect to receive your retired or annuitant pay. Retired and annuitant pay is due on the first of the month. However, if the first falls on a weekend or holiday, retirees get paid on last business day of the prior month and annuitants get paid on the first business day of month. For example, payment to retirees for December 2020 will be paid on December 31, 2020. However, annuitants will be paid on January 4, 2021. For DFAS Frequently Asked Questions refer to https://www.dfas.mil/RetiredMilitary/faqs:

[Source: DFAS Survivor SBP Newsletter | December 5, 2020 ++]

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Attorney Earnings

States with Highest & Lowest

Becoming a lawyer takes years of hard work. The rewards can be immeasurable in terms of career fulfillment and in high earnings. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for average attorney pay in the United States are in. The 2019 figures show the national median (average) salary for lawyers was $122,960 per year and lawyers’ pay averaged $59.11 per hour. That’s about triple the average pay — $19.14 per hour — for all occupations in the workforce combined. Following are lawyers’ average yearly and hourly pay and the number of jobs in the field in each state and Washington, D.C. State are ranked by annual pay, from lowest average pay to highest. This the client fees they charge most likely are ranked accordingly:

Lowest

50. MT – Average annual wage: $83,030 Average hourly wage: $39.92 Employment: 2,060

49. AR – Average annual wage: $94,000 Average hourly wage: $45.19 Employment: 3,160

48. MS – Average annual wage : $95,040 Average hourly wage : $45.69 Employment: 3,260

47. WY – Average annual wage : $100,090 Average hourly wage : $48.12 Employment: 860

46. WV – Average annual wage : $102,040 Average hourly wage : $49.06 Employment: 2,470

45. KY – Average annual wage : $102,980 Average hourly wage : $49.51 Employment: 6,030

44. NM – Average annual wage : $103,290 Average hourly wage : $49.66 Employment: 3,560

43. VT – Average annual wage : $104,790 Average hourly wage : $50.38 Employment: 1,090

42. ID – Average annual wage : $105,450 Average hourly wage : $50.70 Employment: 2,110

41. ME – Average annual wage : $106,350 Average hourly wage : $51.13 Employment: 1,910

Highest

10. VA – Average annual wage : $143,220 Average hourly wage : $68.85 Employment: 16,910

09. TX – Average annual wage : $144,110 Average hourly wage : $69.28 Employment: 44,700

08. NJ – Average annual wage : $147,170 Average hourly wage : $70.76 Employment: 21,690

07. CO – Average annual wage : $150,630 Average hourly wage : $72.42 Employment: 14,320

06. CT – Average annual wage : $154,610 Average hourly wage : $74.33 Employment: 7,600

05. IL – Average annual wage : $157,010 Average hourly wage : $75.49 Employment: 31,270

04. MA – Average annual wage : $164,800 Average hourly wage : $79.23 Employment: 18,750

03. NY – Average annual wage : $168,780 Average hourly wage : $81.14 Employment: 77,060

02. CA – Average annual wage : $173,970 Average hourly wage : $83.64 Employment: 83,750

01. DC – Average annual wage : $192,180 Average hourly wage : $92.39 Employment: 30,960

[Source: MoneyTalksNews | MTN Staff | December 10, 2020 ++]

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Adoption Scams

Update 02: Online Puppy Scams Rising Sharply in 2020,

https://www.bbb.org/corecmsimages/c21a7221-ebad-4623-8d27-9655e057c54f.jpg

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased demand for pets as people seek adding a pet to the family to ease the loneliness and tension of prolonged time at home. Many feel that they now have more time to train a puppy. With this rising demand has come a spike in pet scams, in which an online search ends with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to purchase a pet that ultimately doesn’t exist. Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises extreme caution when shopping for a pet online, especially in light of scammers’ evolving tactics.

Soon after cities and states began to impose tighter restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, BBB Scam Tracker saw a spike in pet fraud reports, with nearly 4,000 reports received in 2020 from the U.S. and Canada. Data from BBB Scam Tracker shows more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined. The COVID-19 bump is continuing into the holiday season, with consumers reporting 337 complaints to BBB about puppy scams in November 2020, a dramatic increase from 77 for the same month in 2019. The median loss reported to Scam Tracker in 2020 is $750. Those aged 35 to 55 accounted for half of BBB reports in 2020. Law enforcement and consumer advocates now say a person searching online for a new pet is extremely likely to encounter a scam listing or website. The pandemic has given scammers a new tool in their arsenal. Scam Tracker reports show that many fraudsters are telling would-be pet owners they cannot meet the animals before sending money. https://petscams.com , which tracks and exposes these scams, recommends using another tool popularized by COVID-19 — video conferencing — to meet the animal and owner virtually before buying as a way of reducing scam vulnerability.

“COVID-19 has made for a long and uncertain year, and a ‘quarantine puppy’ or other pet has proven to be a comfort for many people, but it also has created fertile ground for fraudsters,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO. “People currently shopping for pets online are prime targets for fraudsters trolling the internet looking for want-to-be pet owners. Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help consumers avoid heartache and losing their money.” At the current pace, pet scams reported to BBB will be nearly five times as many as in 2017, when BBB published its first in-depth investigative study on pet scams. The projected dollar loss from these scams is expected to top $3 million, more than six times the total losses reported in 2017. According to the Canadian Antifraud Centre (CAFC), complaints about pet frauds reported to them have also increased by a third since 2017.

BBB Scam Tracker Data

Year Pet Scam Reports Losses

2017 884 $448,123

2018 1,578 $718,248

2019 1,870 $1,016,380

2020 (Jan. 1 – Nov. 30) 3,969 $2,843,552

2020 (projected) 4,300 $3,100,000

With the increase in scam activity has come an evolution in tactics. Scam Tracker data indicates that mobile payment apps like Zelle and CashApp are often used now, whereas Western Union or MoneyGram wire transfers were popular payment methods documented in the 2017 study. Both Zelle and CashApp have issued warnings about pet scams. In addition, pet scammers now commonly use online advertising tools such as sponsored links to boost their fraudulent listings in search results. A Wichita, Kansas, man reported to BBB in April 2020 that he used Zelle to pay $940 for a French bulldog puppy from scammers who used a bogus, but legitimate looking, website to handle shipping for the puppy that never arrived.

The 2017 BBB study noted that most scammers are unable to process credit cards. Although that remains the case, some pet scammers now use fraudulent online forms to collect credit card information. Since the scammers do not have legitimate arrangements to process credit cards, victims may receive an error message stating that the card was declined. Scammers then direct the buyer to send money a different way. But now the scammers have stolen the credit card number, and use these stolen cards to pay for domain names of websites and otherwise fund their scam activities. Pet buyers using a credit card need to monitor their credit card statements carefully. In addition to telling buyers they cannot meet a pet before paying because of the pandemic, fraudsters have made COVID-19-related money requests for items such as special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine, according to Scam Tracker reports. There also were instances where purchasers wanted to pick up the pet but were told that wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.

  • In July 2020, a Fairfield, California, woman told BBB she had attempted to purchase a Yorkshire terrier puppy from an online seller who would accept payment only via mobile apps or gift cards. As instructed, she initially paid $600 for the puppy by purchasing a pair of $300 Vanilla cards and sending photos of the front and back to the seller. Two days later, she was asked to use the same method to pay another $750 for “reimbursable pet insurance.” When she was asked the next day to similarly pay $850 for a “regulated crate,” she told the seller she had exhausted her funds and no longer wanted to proceed with the purchase. The woman told BBB the seller promised to refund her by gift card, but did not and never contacted her again.
  • In August 2020, a Seneca, Illinois man reported to BBB that he believed the dachshund puppy he paid $700 for through Zelle was on its way to him when scammers asked for more money to be wired for a special climate-controlled crate. The wire request raised a red flag for the man, but he said he mistakenly believed the Zelle payment was protected. The fraudulent sellers cut off communication with him, and he lost the $700.

While puppies remain the most common bait in a pet scam, 12% of pet scam complaints to BBB were about kittens or cats. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data shows that scams involving kittens have more than doubled since 2017. The FTC also received 185 reports of parrots being ordered but not delivered during the first half of 2020. Fraudulent listings for Yorkshire terriers and French bulldogs are particularly pervasive, according to Scam Tracker reports.

  • A Centralia, Illinois, woman told BBB in April 2020 that she paid $750 for a corgi puppy she found online as a surprise for her husband’s birthday. She said the Texas-based seller sent her pictures and a video of the puppy, but after she sent the money via Zelle, the seller stopped responding to her contact attempts. The woman subsequently learned the seller was using another person’s photos to promise the puppy to multiple buyers, with a similar outcome in each case. It’s so sad that such rude and dishonest people are out there taking advantage of innocent, trusting people,” the woman told BBB.
  • A Coppell, Texas, woman shared a similar story with BBB in May 2020, paying $1,050 via Zelle for an English bulldog that never arrived. She said the seller provided photos, paperwork and a profile of the dog, as well as purported shipment tracking information from a site that turned out to be fraudulent.

There have been a few law enforcement actions against pet scammers since BBB’s previous study was issued in 2017. In the U.S., a man was arrested in Minnesota for pet fraud in December 2019. In Canada, a woman was arrested for puppy fraud in Waterloo, Ontario in September 2020, and a Newfoundland woman was recently sentenced to 33 months in prison for this fraud.

BBB recommendations for buying pets online:

  • See the pet in person before paying any money. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual pet for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam.
  • Do a reverse image search of the photo of the pet and search for a distinctive phrase in the description.
  • Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price … it could be a fraudulent offer.
  • Check out a local animal shelter online for pets you can meet before adopting.

BBB urges more law enforcement action against pet scammers. The media and public should help to educate those looking for pets online by sharing BBB’s tips and study.

Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam:

  • Petscams.com – petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites tracks complaints, catalogues puppy scammers and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help.
  • Better Business Bureau – BBB Scam Tracker to report a scam online.
  • Canadian Antifraud Centre – antifraudcentre-centreantifraude or call 1-888-495-8501 for scams involving Canada.
  • Your credit card issuer – if you provided your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed.

[Source: BBB Scam Alerts | November 13, 2020 ++]

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COVID-19 Scams

Update 04: Watch for Cons as the COVID Vaccine Rolls Out

With US and Canada close to approving a COVID-19 vaccine, government officials expect scams to emerge as distribution begins. Watch out for everything from phony treatments to phishing messages.

What to Expect from Scammers:

  • Government officials have already been cracking down on phony COVID testing kits and treatments. Now, they are ramping up efforts to prevent the sale of fake vaccines.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is working with the drug companies developing the vaccines to stop the sale and distribution of phony versions. Also, the Federal Trade Commission issued warning letters to several companies claiming they had a product to cure or prevent the virus.
  • Selling fake vaccines and other treatments is likely only one of many ways scammers will try to cash in on the vaccine release. Watch out for phishing messages attempting to trick you into sharing your passwords and personal information. Con artists have already impersonated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in phishing emails that claim to have news about the disease. BBB has also seen an increase in scams using robocalls to impersonate government officials.

How to Spot a COVID Vaccine Con:

  • Research carefully: Scammers are very creative, so be skeptical of anything that seems too good – or crazy – to be true. Double check any information about the vaccine with official news sources. And be aware that none of the vaccines can be currently purchased online or in stores.
  • Check with your doctor. If you want a vaccine early, reach out to your healthcare provider about your options. If you don’t have a primary care physician, check out the official website of your local health department for more information
  • Ignore calls for immediate action. While you may want to be first in line for the vaccine, don’t let that sense of urgency cloud your judgment. Scammers try to get you to act before you think. Don’t fall for it.
  • Think the link may be real? Double check the URL. Scammers often buy official-looking URLs to use in their cons. Be careful that the link is really what it pretends to be. If the message alleges to come from the local government, make sure the URL ends in .gov (for the United States) or .ca (for Canada). When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website.

For More Information

Read more about coronavirus scams on the Federal Trade Commission’s  website. Also, the FDA is updating this page about its progress in developing a treatment for coronavirus. BBB has identified many ways in which scammers are cashing in the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about clinical trial scams, contract tracing cons, counterfeit face masks, and government agency imposters. If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.  [Source: BBB Scam Alerts | December 4, 2020 ++]

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Zoom Invite Scam

Don’t Click on Suspicious Zoom Meeting Invites

Thanks to the global pandemic keeping people at home, the popular video conferencing platform Zoom has seen usage grow exponentially in 2020. Naturally, this has attracted the attention of hackers and scammers. With a huge user base to target, con artists are using old tricks in new scams to try to steal your information.

How the Scam Works

  • Out of the blue, you receive an email, text, or social media message that includes Zoom’s logo and a message saying something like, “Your Zoom account has been suspended. Click here to reactivate.” or “You missed a meeting, click here to see the details and reschedule.” You might even receive a message welcoming you to the platform and requesting you click on a link to activate your account.
  • Scammers registered more than 2,449 Zoom-related domains from late April to early May this year alone. Con artists use these domain names, which include the word “Zoom,” to send you an email that looks like it’s coming from the official video conferencing service.
  • No matter what kind of phishing message you receive, scammers hope you will click on the link they’ve included in their email. These links can download malware onto your computer or lead you to a page where you are prompted to enter your login information. Entering your username and password gives scammers access to your account and any other account that uses a similar login and password combination.

Avoid Online Phishing Scams:

  • Double check the sender’s information. Zoom.com and Zoom.us are the only official domains for Zoom. If an email comes from a similar looking domain that doesn’t quite match the official domain name, it’s probably a scam.
  • Never click on links in unsolicited emails. Phishing scams always involve getting an unsuspecting individual to click on a link or file sent in an email that will download dangerous malware onto their computer. If you get an unsolicited email and you aren’t sure who it really came from, never click on any links, files, or images it may contain.
  • Resolve issues directly. If you receive an email stating there is a problem with your account and you aren’t sure if it is legitimate, contact the company directly. Go to the official website by typing the name in your browser and find the “Contact Support” feature to get help.

For More Information

For more advice on how to protect yourself, see the BBB Tip: Phishing Scams and visit BBB.org/AvoidScams. If you’ve been a victim of this scam, help out your fellow consumers by filing a scam report at BBB.org/ScamTracker. [Source: BBB Scam Alerts | November 27, 2020 ++]

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State Tax Burden for Kentucky Retired Vets

As of DEC 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 the state of Kentucky:


Sales Taxes

The Kentucky state sales tax rate is 6.0% which higher state than 71.2% of all states.

  • Most Groceries, unprocessed foods and prescription drugs are exempt from the Kentucky sales tax. Alcohol used to be exempt, but a 6% state sales tax was added to all alcohol and liquor sales in April, 2009.
  • Some items may not be eligible for reduced sales tax rates, such as expensive clothing, unhealthy food or drinks like soda, and certain non-essential pharmaceuticals. Kentucky does not treat candy or soda as groceries, which means they are not subject to reduced grocery sales tax rates. Other items including gasoline, alcohol, and cigarettes are subject to various Kentucky excise taxes in addition to the sales tax.
  • Unlike a Value Added Tax (VAT), the Kentucky 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 a Kentucky Sales Tax Exemption Form to buy these goods tax-free which can be downloaded from the Kentucky Department of Revenue.
  • Counties and cities are not allowed to collect local sales taxes
  • Kentucky has no special sales tax jurisdictions with local sales taxes in addition to the state sales tax

Excise Taxes

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 Kentucky 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 Kentucky Sales Tax. The Kentucky 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. Kentucky’s excise taxes, on the other hand, are flat per-unit taxes that must be paid directly to the Kentucky 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 Kentucky merchants pass on the excise tax to the customer through higher prices for the taxed goods. Kentucky collects an average of $545 in yearly excise taxes per capita, higher than 66% of the other 50 states.

  • Alcohol: Liquor $7.35 per gal | Wine: $3.18 per gal | Beer: $0.83 per gal. Kentucky charges an additional 11% tax on all alcoholic beverages. All are already added to their purchase prices by the retailer. The excise tax on liquor is ranked #17 out of the 50 states, higher than 66% of the other 50 states. The excise tax on wine is one of the highest wine taxes in the country and is ranked #1 out of the 50 states. The excise tax on beer one of the highest wine taxes in the country and is ranked #6 out of the 50 states.
  • Cannabis Tax: none
  • Cellphone: The average tax collected on cell phone plans in Kentucky is $10.42 per phone service plan, higher than 58% of the other 50 states. Kentucky’s average cellphone tax is ranked #21 out of the 50 states. The 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 excise tax on cigarettes is $0.60 per 20 cigarettes, lower than 78% of the other 50 states. Kentucky’s excise tax on cigarettes is ranked #39 out of the 50 states. The cigarette tax of $0.60 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 excise tax on gasoline is 26.20¢ per gallon, higher than 54% of the other 50 states. Kentucky’s excise tax on gasoline is ranked #23 out of the 50 states. This is in addition to the federal excise tax of 18.4¢ per gallon on gasoline and 24.4¢ per gallon, on diesel. The gas tax is included in the pump price at all gas stations. For all state and federal taxes by type of fuel refer to https://www.salestaxhandbook.com/vermont/gasoline-fuel
  • Vehicle: Kentucky 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 Kentucky Department of Transportation and receive documentation (registration and title papers) proving the fees were paid. For other Motor vehicle taxes refer to https://revenue.ky.gov/Property/Motor-Vehicles/Pages/default.aspx

Personal Income Taxes

Kentucky collects a state income tax at a maximum marginal tax rate spread across tax brackets. Unlike the Federal Income Tax, Kentucky’s state income tax does not provide couples filing jointly with expanded income tax brackets. Notably, Kentucky has the highest maximum marginal tax bracket in the United States.

Tax Rate: 5% of adjusted income. If total adjusted income is $34,248 or less, you may qualify for the Family Size Tax Credit.

Income Brackets:  None.

Personal Tax Credits:  Members of KY National Guard $20; age 65 and over or blind $40 per each applicable filer.

Standard Deduction: May either itemize deductions or take a $2,590 standard deduction.  There is no additional deduction for married. If married and one is over 65 or blind $3,390. If married and both or over 65 or blind $4,190.  The amount is adjusted annually.

Medical/Dental Deduction: Effective January 1, 2018, premiums paid for health insurance coverage and long-term care insurance t can no longer be claimed as deductions.

Federal Income Tax Deduction:  None. Active duty pay is not taxable.

Retirement Income Taxes: Social Security, Railroad Retirement benefits, and Roth IRA proceeds are exempt.

Retired Military Pay: https://revenue.ky.gov/Individual/Pages/Military-Exemptions.aspx

  • For all individuals, Kentucky allows a pension income exclusion of up to $31,110* for all pension and retirement income that is reported as taxable and included in the federal adjusted gross income. The exclusion is not subject to an annual adjustment on the consumer price index. Enter this subtraction on Schedule M Kentucky Federal Adjusted Gross Income Modifications.
  • If you are retired military and receive a federal pension income greater than $31,110*, you will need to complete Kentucky Schedule P Kentucky Pension Income Exclusion to determine how much of your pension income is taxable. You may use the worksheet in the Schedule P instructions or use the Schedule P calculator to determine your exempt percentage.
  • Visit the IRS website https://www.irs.gov/individuals/military for additional information regarding military issues.

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.

Website: https://revenue.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx Kentucky Department of Revenue.

Tax Forms:

Property Taxes

Real property is assessed on 100% of fair market value. Kentucky’s effective average property tax rate is 0.86%, or $1,166 on the average assessed home value of $135,300. The amount you pay in property taxes each year depends on two things: (1) the assessed value of your property and (2) the tax rates that are levied at both the State and local levels.

  • State law – KRS 132.020(2) – requires the State real property tax rate to be reduced anytime the statewide total of real property assessments exceeds the previous year’s assessment totals by more than 4%. Over the years, the State real property tax rate has declined from 31.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 12.2 cents due to this statutory provision. This rate is set annually by July 1, and it applies to all real property tax bills throughout Kentucky.
  • Each county determines the property tax districts that will be in effect. All counties have a general county rate set by the fiscal court and a school district tax rate set by the local school board. Several counties have multiple school districts, but property owners will only pay taxes in one school district. Examples of other common taxing districts include a library district, soil conservation district, county extension district and fire districts. Many other districts may exist in your county. Most of these local taxing districts fall under tax rate restrictions known as House Bill 44. House Bill 44 was legislation initially enacted by a 1979 Special Session of the General Assembly. Although amendments have been made to this legislation in various subsequent legislative sessions, House Bill 44’s purpose continues to be limiting the amount that property tax revenues may increase each year at the local level without either a public hearing or a recall petition.
  • For additional information refer to https://revenue.ky.gov/Property/Residential-Farm-Commercial-Property/Pages/default.aspx or call 502-564-4581 for details.

Homestead Exemption. In Kentucky, homeowners who are least 65 years of age or who have been classified as totally disabled and meet other requirements are eligible to receive a homestead exemption. This exemption is applied against the assessed value of their home and their property tax liability is computed on the assessment remaining after deducting the exemption amount. The exemption for 2019 and 2020 was $39,300. It is adjusted for inflation every 2 years.

Property Tax Bill Payment Schedule

  • October 1 – November 1 — Bill can be paid with a 2% discount
  • November 2 – December 31 — Bill is paid at its face amount
  • January 1 – January 31 — A 5% penalty is added
  • February 1 – April 15 — A 21% penalty is added

Inheritance & Estate Taxes

Kentucky has an inheritance tax, but all Class A beneficiaries (spouse, parent, child, grandchild, brother, and sister) are exempt from paying the tax as long as the date of death is after June 30, 1998. There is no estate tax in Kentucky. Call 502-564-4581, go to https://revenue.ky.gov/Individual/Inheritance-Estate-Tax/Pages/default.aspx, or click here for more information.

Penalties, Interest & Fees

Refer to https://revenue.ky.gov/Collections/Pages/Penalties-Interest-and-Fees.aspx

Other State Tax Rates

To compare the above sales, income, and property tax rates to those accessed in other states go to:

-o-o-O-o-o-

For further information visit the Kentucky Department of Revenue site http://revenue.ky.gov or call 502-564-4581. [Source: http://www.retirementliving.com/taxes-kansas-new-mexico#KENTUCKY | December 2020 ++]

* General Interest *

Notes of Interest

December 01 thru 15, 2020

  • VARO Manila Ops. Per VFW 9892 Cdr’s Report 10 NOV, VARO Director Tracey Betts advises they’re waiting on confirmation for continued Manila VARO and Clinic operations for 2021. VA Manila advises flu shots are not available at the Manila Clinic due to a lack of vaccine. COVID-19 vaccine will also be provided, if and when the VA Clinic can acquire it.
  • US Embassy RP Ops. 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 are being provided by appointment only. All notary services, including for an “Affidavit in Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage,” remain suspended.
  • Stars & Stripes. Lawmakers revealed 4 NOV the 2021 NDAA includes funding Stars and Stripes in 2021, maintaining the news organization that the Pentagon sought to close earlier this year. Also, $2 million to form a commission to plan the renaming of the military bases that honor Confederate leaders, defying a veto threat from President Donald Trump.
  • Lunar Probe. A Chinese probe that landed on the moon transferred rocks to an orbiter 6 DEC in preparation for returning samples of the lunar surface to Earth for the first time in almost 45 years, the space agency announced.
  • Iran. Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, told The Associated Press on 6 DEC, “The question that should be raised is, what is the U.S. Navy doing 7,000 miles from its territorial waters?”
  • National Guard. On 3 DEC President Donald Trump approved requests from nearly every state to extend federal funding for the National Guard’s Covid-19 relief work until the end of March. The authorization had been set to expire at the end of the year.
  • White Xmas. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPAqyC6GMw8 to listen to the United States Navy Band rendition of White Christmas.
  • Military music. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAXHr0qccvE to listen to the 2020 Armed Forces Day PBS rendition of the Armed Forces Medley followed by “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band rendition of the Star Spangled Banner plus many other military Band renditions and presentations.
  • Calling VA. If you want to call VA seeking information or assistance and do not know who to call, dial 1-800-MyVA411 (i.e. 1-800-698-2411) to speak to a live agent who will connect you to the department that can deal with your needs.
  • WWII Vets. Of the 16 million American veterans of World War II, just less than 558,000 were alive in 2017 and 325,000 are alive in 2020, while nearly 300 of those vets die every day, according to the National World War II Museum. The Museum further estimates that the entire generation of World War II veterans will be gone within the next 10-15 years.
  • Movies. At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8Nl_W7MHF0 check out some short military action films including NWO – United We Stand”.
  • Puerto Rico. The VA on 12 DEC dedicated a new 247-acre national cemetery in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Construction of the initial phase of the cemetery is ongoing, with the first interments expected to occur in the first half of 2021. In the decades to come, it will provide burial options for more than 150,000 Veterans and their eligible family members living in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean Region, as well as Central and South America. Puerto Rico National Cemetery, which was dedicated in 1949 is expected to deplete new burial options in 2022.

[Source: Various | December 15, 2020 ++]

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Map Comparisons

Australia’s Size vs. U.S.

 

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Surviving Spouses

Update 02: New Organization Looking for Members

Are you wondering where to go to get information about issues affecting surviving spouses and families? Are you looking for a supportive, nonjudgmental group to assist you in learning and keeping up to date on benefits and legislation impacting our surviving families? Need a pick-me-up or to connect with others who share similar interests as you? Join the MOAA Surviving Spouses and Friends Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/581427115240904.

Who can join? Membership has been recently expanded to include not only surviving spouses but also our families, military spouses, council and chapter surviving spouse liaisons, advocates, and others with an interest in issues that impact the survivor community, regardless of MOAA membership. Particularly in these times of COVID-19 restrictions, we all need a way to connect with others whom which we have common interests.

Is this a public or private group? This is a private group, and there are no fees or dues. You are required to answer a couple of brief questions and be approved by the administrators of the group to join. These questions are designed to ensure we provide a safe place to share information and connect with other like-minded people as well as protect the group from those who do not have a legitimate interest in our issues. The group’s rules are simple, and members may be removed at the discretion of the administrators. Here are a few of the do’s and don’ts to remember:

  • Do be kind and courteous; remember the Golden Rule and treat everyone with respect.
  • Don’t attack someone else just because you disagree with them. We can disagree with one another but keep it respectful. Hate speech and bullying will not be tolerated and such comments will be removed.
  • Do respect the privacy of the group. Comments made within this group are not to be shared outside of the group. Some of the discussions can be sensitive and private in nature, and it is important that we can trust each other. Files may also not be shared without the approval of the administrators. Posts within the page cannot be seen by the Facebook “friends” of others in the group, unless they are members of the group themselves.
  • Don’t post sensitive information, such as your phone number, address, social security number, or bank account information. If you need advice that requires you to share this type of information, please privately contact the administrators for assistance.
  • Do remember that “tone” is sometimes difficult to determine online. Stop and think before reacting negatively as you may have misinterpreted a comment or response. Remember that many of us are grieving, so please give a little grace.
  • Don’t post about politics or political events. This page is apolitical and will not be used to promote any candidate or political party.
  • Do feel free to contribute material to the site, provided it does not violate group rules. If you are unsure, please reach out to one of the Facebook group administrators.
  • Don’t sell products or advertise your business. This is also not a dating site.

If you are a member of the group, you might have noticed more activity recently and even posts that are not benefit or surviving family specific. It is intended this page to be not only an efficient way to disseminate information on benefits, proposed legislation, advocacy efforts, etcetera, but also a way for all of us to connect and uplift one another. Feel free to share an encouraging or funny meme and pictures of your loved ones and pets and post comments supporting each other. The group is expanding, and would be happy to welcome more members. [Source: MOAA Newsletter | Nancy Mullen | November 30, 2020 ++]

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China’s Military Expansion

Will Test the Biden Administration

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/81/Adm_Davidson_2014.jpg/1200px-Adm_Davidson_2014.jpg

The tectonic plates of the military balance in Asia are shifting underneath our feet. It’s happening slowly and inexorably, but over time the magnitude of the change is becoming vividly apparent. As the United States prepares to change its leadership, China’s military advancement and expansion are now a problem too glaring to ignore. Adm. Philip Davidson, who is nearing the end of his tour as the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, has been warning about the changing military balance in Asia throughout his tenure. But his warnings have often fallen on deaf ears in a Washington mired in partisanship and dysfunction. The Trump administration talked a big game about meeting the challenge of China’s military encroachment, but Davidson’s calls for substantially more investment to restore the regional balance that has deterred Beijing for decades have gone largely unanswered.

China’s military has moved well past a strategy of simply defending its territory and is now modernizing with the objective of being able to operate and even fight far from its shores, Davidson told me in an interview conducted last month for the 2020 Halifax International Security Forum. Under President Xi Jinping, Davidson said, China has built advanced weapons systems, platforms and rocket forces that have altered the strategic environment in ways the United States has not sufficiently responded to. “We are seeing great advances in their modernization efforts,” he said. “China will test more missiles, conventional and nuclear associated missiles this year than every other nation added together on the planet. So that gives you an idea of the scale of how these things are changing.”

Davidson confirmed, for the first time from the U.S. government side, that China’s People’s Liberation Army has successfully tested an anti-ship ballistic missile against a moving ship. This was done as part of the PLA’s massive joint military exercises, which have been ongoing since the summer. These are often called “aircraft carrier killer” missiles, because they could threaten the United States’ most significant naval assets from long distances. “It’s an indication that they continue to advance their capability. We’ve known for years they’ve been in pursuit of a capability that could attack moving targets,” Davidson said. I asked him whether they are designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. “Trust me, they are targeting everything,” he replied.

Chinese missile and rocket forces now represent “a great asymmetry” in the region, Davidson said, that presents a threat along the first island chain, which stretches from the Koreas down through Japan to Southeast Asia and Taiwan. He has advocated integrated air and missile defense in the region and on Guam, which is strategic but vulnerable. Davidson’s watch has almost ended. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that President Trump plans to nominate Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino to succeed him. But before that change will likely take place, a new president will take office in Washington, one who is promising to review the U.S. strategic approach to Asia early on. What Joe Biden’s officials will find is that the PLA of 2021 is quite different from the PLA they last dealt with in 2016.

“Recent advances in equipment, organization, and logistics have significantly improved the PLA’s ability to project power and deploy expeditionary forces far from China’s shores,” the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission wrote in its latest annual report, released this week. “A concurrent evolution in military strategy requires the force to become capable of operating anywhere around the globe and of contesting the U.S. military if called upon to do so.” Additionally, the commission warned, the PLA’s long-term strategy to catch up with U.S. military might includes advancing cyber, space and information warfare capabilities, often using the ostensibly civilian information systems that Chinese companies have built around the world. It is what Beijing calls “military-civil fusion.”

This means the incoming administration must develop a strategy for contesting China’s military expansion in the civilian space as well. The Trump administration has begun some of this work. The Justice Department is cracking down on Chinese scientists in the United States who hide their PLA affiliations. Trump has banned U.S. investment in 89 Chinese companies linked to the PLA. The Trump team’s response to China’s military expansion has at times been inconsistent, unilateral and undiplomatic. These are things the incoming Biden administration can improve upon. But Biden officials would be wise to admit that the Trump team got the basic theory of the case correct, namely that the PLA’s expansion must be countered everywhere it shows itself, including in U.S. colleges and capital markets.

The Biden administration will find countering China’s military strategy, especially in Asia, to be a complex, costly and risky endeavor. But it has no choice but to embark on it, because the status quo is giving out. A good first step would be for Biden to nominate a defense secretary who understands the nature and urgency of the threat. [Source: Washington Post | Josh Rogin (Opinion) | December 3, 2020 ++]

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Iran Tensions

Update 13: US Troop Pullouts Raise Fears of Iranian Attacks

As the Pentagon pulls troops out of the Middle East in the coming weeks, under orders from President Donald Trump, U.S. military leaders are working to find other ways to deter potential attacks by Iran and its proxies, and to counter arguments that America is abandoning the region. A senior U.S. military official with knowledge of the region said Monday that Iran may try to take advantage of America’s troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the planned departure of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz from the Persian Gulf. The official said as a result military leaders have determined that based on the security situation in the region, the Nimitz must remain there now and “for some time to come.” In addition, the official said an additional fighter jet squadron may also be sent to the region, if needed.

The Nimitz left the Gulf region and was set to begin heading home. But the ship was ordered to return last week to provide additional security while the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan continue. A U.S. defense official said at the time that the decision would ensure that American troops could deter any adversary from taking action against U.S. forces. No timeline was given, but the U.S. military official speaking Monday made it clear that the change is open-ended, and it’s not clear when the ship’s crew will return home.

The potential Iranian threat has become an increasing concern in recent weeks following the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has blamed the death on Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists. U.S. officials are also worried about a possible Iranian retaliatory strike on the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad’s airport in early January. The military official said the U.S. is aware of Iranian attack planning and threats, and that some are more mature, while others are aspirational. A key worry, he said, is that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq may be willing to act even without the blessings or direction of Tehran.

The presence of the Nimitz, said the official, may cause Iran or the militias to rethink a possible attack. The Pentagon is mindful of the impact of the extended deployment on the Nimitz sailors and on the Navy’s plan for the ship’s maintenance, said the military official, who spoke to a small number of reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing troop deliberations. The Pentagon announced last month that the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America’s long wars. Under the accelerated pullout, the U.S. will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.

Postponing the return of the Nimitz, however, will keep between 5,000-7,000 sailors and Marines in the Middle East, likely into next year. Other ships in the Nimitz strike group may remain with the carrier. The military official said that the Pentagon will look at other ways to make up for the loss of the Nimitz when the carrier does leave the region. Trump’s troop withdrawal decision got a cool reception from Republican lawmakers and allies, who warned of the dangers of reducing forces before security conditions are right. And it came despite arguments from senior military officials who favor a slower pullout to preserve hard-fought gains.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, top U.S. commander for the Middle East, has long argued for a consistent aircraft carrier presence in the Gulf region to deter Iran. Visiting the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the North Arabian Sea in February, McKenzie told the sailors: “You’re here because we don’t want a war with Iran and nothing makes a potential adversary think twice about war than the presence of an aircraft carrier and the strike group that comes with it.” Despite widespread demands for U.S. Navy ships in other parts of the world, McKenzie requested and received a much larger than usual naval presence in the Middle East region throughout the early part of this year. But over time, the numbers have declined, in recognition of the Pentagon’s effort to put more emphasis on China and the Indo-Pacific. [Source: Associated Press | Lolita C. Baldor | December 7, 2020 ++]

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Car Ownership

Update 01: 2020’s Six Most Reliable Automakers

Three automakers — Mazda, Toyota and Lexus — continue to maintain their reputation for reliability, while three others are hot on their trail, according to Consumer Reports. The publication recently released its annual list of the most reliable car brands. In compiling its rankings, CR looked at the average predicted reliability score for vehicles in a brand’s model lineup. The publication describes these ratings as a reflection of “how well vehicles have held up and the odds that an owner could be inconvenienced by problems and repairs.” On a scale of zero to 100, the average rating fell between 41 and 60 points. But these automakers all did better:

  • Mazda: Average predicted reliability rating of 83 out of 100
  • Toyota: 74
  • Lexus: 71
  • Buick: 70
  • Honda: 63
  • Hyundai: 62

CR notes that Buick made the largest jump in this year’s rankings, up 14 positions from last year. In addition, Honda’s reliability stock is rising, thanks to what CR characterizes as “steady improvements and some outstanding models in its lineup, which offset the ongoing reliability problems of its Odyssey minivan and Passport SUV.” Even companies that lag in the rankings — including Chevrolet, GMC, BMW, Volvo and Jeep — earned higher average predicted reliability ratings in 2020 compared with 20219. Many of these manufacturers made reliability improvements in newer and redesigned models.

On the other hand, three brands — Kia, Ford and Lincoln — saw significant drops in their reliability numbers. Kia’s troubles stem largely from problems with a new continuously variable transmission in its Forte and Soul models. Problems with new SUV models dragged down the rankings of Ford and Lincoln, CR says. A car is one of the biggest purchases you will ever make, so it’s important to do your homework before buying. Money Talks News typically advises buying a used car rather than buying brand-new. Used vehicles usually are the more economical choice. But buying used is no bargain if you purchase a lemon. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Chris Kissell | December 7, 2020 ++]

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Trump Border Wall

Update 17: Federal Court Rules Lower Court Wrong in Baring Funds

A federal appeals court ruled 4 DEC that a lower court was wrong to bar the Trump administration from taking $3.6 billion from military construction projects for a border wall. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that El Paso County and the nonprofit Border Network for Human Rights did not have the standing to challenge President Donald Trump’s redirecting funds from more than 100 military construction projects, including a $20 million road project at a base located in the city. The appeals court found that neither the county nor the Border Network proved it was directly harmed by Trump’s move. The court reversed a December 2019 ruling by U.S. District Judge David Briones.

Trump took roughly $6 billion from military funds under a national emergency he declared in early 2019 after Congress refused to fully fund his demands for wall funding, leading to the longest government shutdown in history. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to end that national emergency, though the Trump administration has locked in construction contracts with the funding and already built many new stretches of wall across the southwest border.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already agreed to review a different ruling on the use of military construction funds. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously agreed with a coalition of border states and environmental groups that contended the transfer of money was unlawful and that building the wall would pose environmental threats. In its 4 DEC order, the 5th Circuit said it disagreed with the 9th Circuit’s ruling and would “decline to follow it. [Source: Associated Press | Nomaan Merchant | December 5, 2020 ++]

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Life Hacks

A Few Things to Make Your Life Easier

As Covid lockdowns and restrictions begin to grip the country again, one thing is clear: We’re going to be spending a lot of time at home this winter regardless of where you live.  So why not get ready with these awesome household life hacks?  The term “life hack” is defined as “a tool or technique that makes life easier and more efficient.”   Whether it’s putting vinegar-soaked bread in your garage, pouring salt down your drain, or using ultraviolet lights to blast germs off the surfaces of your home, there are plenty of very timely life hacks that will help make this winter more bearable!

Placing A Rubber Band Around Both Door Knobs

Everyone has rubber bands in their messy drawer, but now you’ll actually have a use for them besides holding things together. If you have young kids or ever did, then you know nothing is worse than waking them up by accident when they are sleeping. And one of the most common ways to wake them is by going into their room to check on them only to have the sound of the door opening wake them up. To stop the loud noise the lock makes is very easy. Take a rubber band, wrap it around each doorknob, and over the lock/latch. This allows you to open and close the door without ANY noise, letting your sleeping baby stay asleep. Wrapping a rubber band around the door is also a good way to stop a toddler/child from locking a door on purpose or accident.

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Pour Salt Down Your Sink Drain To Fix Clogs

Salt is one of the most commonly found minerals on earth. And while most people associate it with cooking, it actually has tons of uses all around the house. One of the more helpful alternatives uses for salt is to help fix clogged drains. Here’s what you need to do. First, clear as much of the blockage as you can by hand. Then take 1/2 a cup of salt and 1/2 a cup of baking soda and pour it into the drain. Then take vinegar and pour it down the hole. It will bubble up fast, then by the time the bubbles stop, the clog should be gone. Salt can also be used for things like putting out a dangerous grease fire. You can also use it as an abrasive to help clean a very dirty pot or pan. There are literally ended uses for salt around the house, that’s why it pays to always keep extra in your pantry.

Use WD 40 in Your Bathroom Faucets

For most people they deal with hard water which over time can make cause things to become harder to do. For example, your shower or bath faucets, as hard water build-up, turning the hot water knob can become increasingly more difficult. Or the same can happen with the shower/bath diverter spout (that little thing you pull that will make the water come out of the faucet or showerhead). Instead of taking apart your faucet or paying a plumber to come to fix it, you can use WD40. Just take a can of WD40 (preferably one with a long flexible hose) and spray it inside of your faucet. The WD40 will loosen up the hard water and make the diverter work as smoothly as day 1. The same goes for a hard to turn shower knob, a spritz of WD40 and it will work like brand new.

Use Bread Soaked In Vinegar as a Deodorizer

We have all dealt with this problem before, you go to throw out some garbage and as soon as you lift the lid you are hit with a wall of terrible smells. Disgusting! Then you try and clean it with sprays you can buy from the supermarket, but those don’t really help. Now your garbage will smell like chemicals and rotting food. Luckily, there’s a better solution and you likely have the items in your house already. All you need to do is take a piece of bread (stale one is even better) and soak it in some plain old distilled vinegar. Throw it in the bottom of any garbage can overnight, then in the morning toss it away. All the nasty smells will be gone!

Sleep With a Bar Of Soap Under Your Sheets

It might sound strange, but there’s some evidence to back this up. People claim that sleeping with a bar of soap helped cure their leg cramps at night. This trick has gained so much popularity that it even made it to the TV show “The Doctors”. When they polled their audience, 40% said this has relieved their leg cramps or restless legs syndrome. Some suggest placing soap near your feet helps ions to go from the soap to your body and eventually your nervous system. It’s these ions that help ease your cramps. While there’s been no official clinical study on this, anyone who suffers from leg cramps should give this a shot as you have nothing to lose.

Dish Soap Used In the Toilet

With endless products claiming they can make your toilet look brand new, it can be hard to sift through them all and figure out which one to buy. Rather than spending money and time wasted, there’s something in your house already that you can use. And it’s not what you might think. Dish soap is the answer you’ve been looking for. And it couldn’t be any more simple to use. Take 1/4 cup of dish soap + 1/4 cup of baking soda + 1/4 cup of water. Mix them together, then pour them into the toilet. Stir the solution, then let it sit overnight. The next morning, do a light scrub and your toilet will look brand new! You can also use dish soap to unclog a toilet without a plunger. Simply put 1 cup of soap into your toilet, let it sit for 30 mins. Then take hot water and pour it into the bowl. The clog will be gone.

Helping Onions and Garlic Last Longer

You don’t have to be a top chef to know the flavorful benefits of cooking and sautéing with onions and garlic. By simply adding these two staples, you can totally change the game when it comes to the taste of some of your favorite foods or dishes. Although such veggies as onions, garlic, and even shallots last much longer than their counterparts, such as bananas, apples and oranges, there is a simple hack to further their longevity by as many as three more months. Just take a paper bag, such as a lunch bag, and using a paper punch and punch holes all in the bag. Once you have that done, fold the bag top down a couple of turns and secure it with a paper clip.

[Source: Lifestyle | Tracy Few | November 16, 2020 ++]

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Home Rodent Control

Humane Tips to Keep Them from Moving In

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Having rodents in your home is never a good thing. Rats and mice are unwelcome house guests, but they have the supernatural ability to find their way into places they are not meant to be, most of the time leaving clues of their presence such as chewed up cords, droppings, and holes in the walls. Some of them are so audacious that you might even find one scampering across your kitchen floor or even your counter or across your foot as you lie relaxing on the couch. While dealing with a large scale rat or mouse issue is usually a professional job, handling rodents when there are only one or two can be done relatively cheap and without causing any harm to the animal. Respecting the animal does not mean that you would have to live with them in your home.

Once you are not dealing with a major issue, dealing with rodents is always a good starting point. That being mentioned, mice in particular breed extremely fast, so if you have not solved your issue within a week or less, then you need to contact a professional, as mice multiple quickly. Below are a few tips for removing the rodents humanely.

Use a Live Trap

The use of a live trap will hold a rodent without actually causing harm so that you will be able to sanitarily get rid of it from inside your home. Live traps are simple to use; they do not involve the touching of the animal to be able to release it afterward, however, you should still protect yourself with a pair of heavy-duty gloves just in case. This will safeguard you from bites, as well as from coming into contact with any feces, which is one of the ways rodents can spread diseases. You must choose your bait wisely. House mice are not actually fond of cheese as we were taught, this is really a myth, so do not waste your favorite sandwich maker, instead select one of their known favorites like grains, seeds, or fruit.

However, rats are a bit different, they are not as picky, they are indiscriminate about their food selection, but they do have a preference for vegetables, cereal, peanut butter, and meats. You should note however that if you plan to use live traps in an effort not to harm the rodents, you should be checking in on your trap as least once an hour. Rats and house mice are susceptible to stress and this can often be fatal. As it relates to releasing the rodent, it is suggested that you travel far enough away from your home that they are not likely to return.

Find and Seal Points of Entry

Rodents are going to expertly maneuver their way into getting into your home, they will find some route, some small crevice to contort their bodies through. It might be quite difficult to find the entry points of these devious invaders but once you are on the hunt to find them, chances are that you will. Rodents normally seek entry through holes and cracks in your foundation, your floors, and your walls. The pipework to your home can also be an entry point once it is not sealed correctly on the exterior. A detailed walkthrough of your property is needed to determine any entry points, and once found you will need to take the correct steps in sealing the area. Spray foam would be a great option as it can be molded to fit any space, crack or crevice you are trying to close up.

Do Not Leave Food Out

Preemptive measures are one of the most effective ways that you can employ to humanely deal with rodents. In spite of everything, the best-case scenario is that they never become comfortable in your house from the start. It is crucial that you do not leave any food out, just lying around for an extended period of time, this also includes your pet food. Store as much as you possibly can in your cabinets, fridge, and pantry. Ensure that you clean the table and the floor that is beneath the table after you have eaten. When you leave crumbs on the counter or floor, this sends an invitation to the rats and mice to visit and enjoy the buffet and will begin to consider your home as a dependable source of food. As you continue to take steps towards storing all your food away, be mindful of your garbage and have that sealed as well.

Try Peppermint Oil

They may have been some mixed reviews on this, as it relates to the effectiveness and how well it works. So if you are experiencing a mouse or rat problem, and you also know the entry points into the home, try placing some peppermint oil at the mouth of the entrance and it could aid as a natural deterrent. It has been proven that while mice and rats love to rumble through sewers and garbage cans, they do not enjoy the scent of peppermint and try to stay clear of it. After sealing the known entry point of the rodents, apply one hundred percent of peppermint spray or oil around the entire area to offer that extra layer of protection. An idea would be to soak a cotton wool ball in the peppermint oil and then place them all around the entry point. Peppermint plants around your property where mice or rats are most likely to appear.

[Source: Outdoor Wear Newsletter | November 19, 2020 ++]

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News of the Weird

December 01-15, 2020

Name Change — After more than 1,000 years, the Austrian town of F–king is getting a new name, The Local reported. English-speaking tourists have had a field day snapping selfies with city signs, even stealing them, and the 100 residents of modern-day F–king have had enough. According to the minutes of a municipal council meeting published on Nov. 16, the town will change its name to Fugging as of Jan. 1. “I can confirm that the village is being renamed,” said Andrea Holzner, mayor of the surrounding municipality. “I really don’t want to say anything more.” [The Local, 11/28/2020]

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Walking it Off — After a heated argument with his wife in late November, a 48-year-old unnamed man from Como, Italy, stepped outside to walk it off and kept on walking until he was stopped a week later by police officers patrolling after curfew in Gimarra, more than 260 miles away, Oddity Central reported. The man said he had walked the entire way, without using any other modes of transportation and relied on the kindness of strangers for food and drink. “I’m fine. I’m just a little tired,” he said. His wife, who had reported him missing, picked him up the next day, but had to pay a fine of almost $500 for his violation of the curfew. [Oddity Central, 12/3/2020]

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Monoliths — Germany has also experienced a recent monolith mystery, according to the Associated Press. Local media in southern Germany reported the disappearance on Nov. 30 of a wooden phallus sculpture about 7 feet tall that inexplicably appeared on Gruenten Mountain several years ago and had became a destination for hikers and tourists, even appearing on Google Maps as a “cultural monument.” But over the weekend, someone chopped it down, leaving only a pile of sawdust. Police in the town of Kempten are investigating. [Associated Press, 11/30/2020]

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Incompetent Criminal — Daniel M. Rizza, 20, of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, driving a gray Audi SUV, ran out of gas on Nov. 27 and called state police to ask for help, but when he was told a trooper would be responding, he abruptly said he’d changed his mind and hung up, according to court documents. WTAJ reported the trooper responding to the call learned en route that a gray Audi had been reported stolen nearby earlier in the day, and after a check of the SUV’s make, model, identification number and registration, he arrested Rizza, who was charged with a felony count of receiving stolen property. [WTAJ, 11/30/2020]

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DIY meal kit — The Design Museum in London has included a “DIY meal kit” featuring steaks that could be grown from a diner’s own human cells among the nominees in its Beazley Designs of the Year exhibit. Developers of the Ouroboros Steak envision that an individual will be able to harvest cells from their own cheek and feed them with serum derived from donated blood that has expired, Dezeen reported. After about three months, the steaks would be fully grown. “People think that eating oneself is cannibalism, which technically this is not,” said Grace Knight, one of the designers. Researcher Orkan Telhan added, “Our design is scientifically and economically feasible but also ironic in many ways,” he added. [Dezeen, 11/13/2020]

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Hand Sanitizer Hazard — College student Benjamin LaRose of Millis, Massachusetts, is recovering from third-degree burns he suffered at an outdoor party with friends this fall when someone used hand sanitizer as an accelerant in the fire pit they were gathered around, Boston25 reported. “It was rather sudden how quick it reacted,” LaRose said, “very much like napalm,” catching his leg and shorts on fire and requiring skin grafts to treat the burns. LaRose’s pediatrician, Dr. Lester Hartman, warned of the dangers of using hand sanitizer and then being exposed to open flames: “Alcohol is very volatile and explosive … and people that are doing a barbecue or even lighting a cigarette or lighting a candle” need to let the alcohol evaporate first. Or, experts say, use soap and water. [Boston25, 10/5/2020]

[Source: https://www.uexpress.com/news-of-the-weird | December 4, 2020 ++]

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Have You Heard or Seen?

Military Humor (13) | Dad Jokes (1) | Latest Satirical Cartoons

Military Humor 13

1. How many officers does it take to start a jeep? Five.

How many NCOs does it take? Just one, because no matter how many of them you have, officers can’t do anything right.

2. What’s the difference between Aeroflot and a scud missile? Aeroflut has killed more people.

3. A soldier runs up a hill and around a corner before slamming into an officer.

“Where do you think you’re going, son?”

“Sorry, Captain! It’s crazy out there and the firefight was so heavy. I got scared and tried to go AWOL.”

“Who you calling “Captain?” I’m a general!”

“Wow!” exclaimed the soldier. “I didn’t realize I’d run that far back.”

4. Where do Generals keep their armies? In their sleevies.

5. The reason the branches all bicker among themselves is because they don’t speak the same language. For instance, look at the simple phrase “secure the building”.

The Army will post guards around the place.

The Navy will turn out the lights and lock the doors.

The Marines will kill everybody inside and set up a headquarters.

The Air Force will take out a 5-year lease with an option to buy.

6. What happened when the soldier went to the enemy bar? He got bombed.

7. Officer: “Soldier, do you have change for a dollar?”

Soldier: “Sure, buddy.”

Officer: “That’s no way to address an officer! Now, let’s try it again!”

Officer: “Soldier. Do you have change for a dollar?”

Soldier: “No, SIR!”

8. A general is sitting in his jeep on the side of the road when a lieutenant pulls up, hops out and asks, “Car stuck?”

The general hands the LT his keys, slides into the LT’s jeep and says, “Nope. But, yours is.”

9. A drill sergeant grumbles at his fresh young trainee,

“I didn’t see you at camouflage training this morning, Private.”

“Thank you very much, Sir,” replies the soldier.

10. Words of wisdom from the front lines:

Coffee tastes better if the latrines are downstream from the encampment.’

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Dad Jokes 1

  • If you’re American when you go in the bathroom… and American when you come out, what are you in the bathroom? European.
  • What did the fish say when he swam into a wall? Dam.
  • What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
  • Why are you scrolling down? It’s your turn to say something.
  • I sold my vacuum the other day. All it was doing was collecting dust.
  • What is Forrest Gump’s email password? 1forrest1.
  • Did you hear about the guy who invented the knock knock joke? He won the “no-bell” prize.
  • Did you hear about the fire in the shoe factory? 10,000 soles were lost. The police said some heels started it.
  • Two guys walk into a bar. The third guy ducks.
  • What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta.
  • Did you hear the story about the claustrophobic astronaut? He just needed some space.
  • What do you call an alligator in a vest? An in-vest-igator.
  • What kind of tea is hard to swallow? Reality.
  • A man and a giraffe walk into a bar. After a few drinks, the giraffe falls over and dies. The man begins to walk out when the bartender stops him. “Hey, you can’t leave that lyin’ there!” The bartender yells out. The man turns around: “It’s not a lion. It’s a giraffe.”
  • Why can’t a nose be 12 inches long? Because then it’d be a foot.
  • Why don’t dinosaurs talk? Because they’re dead.
  • The wedding was so beautiful. Even the cake was in tiers.
  • What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet? “Supplies!”
  • What did the buffalo say when his son left? Bison!
  • What do you call a can opener that doesn’t work? A can’t opener!
  • Did you hear about the Italian chef who died? He pasta-way.

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Latest Satirical Cartoons

Thought of the Week

“No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb. We know now that a nation can have peace with the Nazis only at the price of total surrender.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

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5. The Bulletin is normally published on the 1st and 15th of each month. It is provided as a website accessed document vice email direct access. If you do not receive an email Bulletin Availability notice check to see if it is posted on the website www.veteransresources.org before sending me an email asking if one was published.   If you can access the Bulletin at any of the aforementioned sites it indicates that something is preventing you from receiving my email. Either your server, considers it to be spam or I have somehow incorrectly entered or removed your addee from the mailing list. Send me an email so I can verify your entry on the mailing list.

6. Note that some email servers (especially SBCGLOBAL) allow many, but not all, of their users to receive the Bulletin if sent to them in its normal fashion via my mailing list provider (MLP). For those subscribers adversely impacted by this I maintain a separate direct mailing list (DML) to send in an alternate manner for those not allowed by their servers to receive their Bulletin Availability notices. If you are impacted by this let me know so I can add you to that mailing list.

7. Articles within the Bulletin are editorialized information obtained from over 100 sources. At the end of each article is provided the primary source from which it was obtained. The ++ indicates that that the information was reformatted from the original source and/or editorialized from more than one source. Because of the number of articles contained in each Bulletin there is no why that I can attest to their validity other than they have all been taken from previously reliable sources. Also, just because an article appears in the Bulletin it does not necessarily mean I support its content. If an article is based on the author’s opinion vice a government entity I try to note that after the author’s name. Readers who question the validity of any article’s content are encouraged to go to the source provided to have their questions answered or express their opinions. I am always open to comments but, as a policy, shy away from anything political. Too controversial and time consuming.

8. Recipients of the Bulletin are authorized and encouraged to forward the Bulletin to other vets or veteran organizations. This Bulletin Availability notice was sent to the 18,958 subscribers.

-o-o-O-o-o-

RAO Bulletin Editor/Publisher:

Lt. James (EMO) Tichacek, USN (Ret) Tel: (858) 842-1111 Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Bulletin Web Access: https://www.veteransresources.org

RAO Baguio Director:

SSgt Terrance (Terry) Parker, USAF (Ret), PSC 517 Box 4107, FPO AP 96517-1000, Tel: Smart 0921824728 or Globe 09454073380, Email: [email protected]

RAO Baguio Office: Mountain Lodge, 27 Leonard Wood Road, Baguio City, 2600 Philippines

FPO Mail Pickup: TUE & THUR 09-1100 — Outgoing Mail Closeout: THUR 1100

Warning:

DELETE the end-paragraph (i. e. UNSUBSCRIBE Option) of the Bulletin before you forward it to others. The option following this warning is required by law and offers the recipient an opportunity to “UNSUBSCRIBE“, if they choose to. This “unsubscribe” link contains YOUR email address vice theirs and whoever receives your re-distribution has the opportunity, whether purposely or inadvertently, to terminate your future receipt of Bulletin messages if they should click on it.