The Dillon Aero M134D minigun is the world’s ultimate gatling gun, firing upwards of 6,000 rounds per-minute. And the awesome weapon can be carried on everything from small helicopters to fixed wing planes to the backs of infantrymen.
The 7.62mm minigun got its start in Vietnam where the Army adopted it for vehicle and infantry use while the Air Force bought it for its first-generation “Spooky” gunships. The infantry version of the weapon requires a tripod and large batteries and was rarely deployed.
But the vehicle-mounted versions of the weapon were a hit. The AC-47 carried three of the miniguns on its left side and would fly through the skies of Vietnam at night, dropping flares to illuminate enemies attacking U.S. forces and then wasting them with the three miniguns. It was later nicknamed “Puff the Magic Dragon” because of the way its tracers lit up the night.
The Air Force eventually turned to a larger plane and larger guns for aerial gunships, leading to the AC-130 variants still flying today. But the M134 saw expanded deployments as the Navy began mounting them on ships and boats and the Army expanded the weapon onto more helicopters and vehicles.
But the original M134s were prone to jamming, so Dillon Aero went back to the drawing board and eventually rolled out the M134D, a more reliable version of the weapon.
The Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft crews rely heavily on the weapon when conducting riverine operations and landing SEALs. The high rate of fire allows them to quickly subdue a riverbank or to suppress an enemy chasing Navy SEALs during a pick up.
See the awesome weapon in action in the video below:
After five long contracted years of service, you learned a thing or two about yourself. Here are a few things that may have made your list.
1. Mental strength
Most people rarely tap into their full potential and allow their minds to convince their bodies that they can’t succeed. The truth is when sh*t hits the fan and bullets are flying, you’ll quickly learn if you have what it takes to break free from your mental limitations.
Mind over matter. (Images via Giphy)
2. Gut check
Many sailors who graduate Corps school are highly motivated to put their newly learned knowledge to use and pursue a medical career after the military. Fast forward to the middle of a combat deployment, and many wonder if practicing medicine was the right choice for them. Many young minds grow fatigued and change career paths after taking care of several of their dying brothers.
It’s not for everyone.
You get the point. (Image via Giphy)
3. You matured quickly
The vast majority of the lower enlisted are barely old enough to drink when they shipped out to the front lines. Witnessing the dramatic action that takes place on deployment can make the most immature 20-year-old feel weathered, and it changes the way they see the world.
Heading off to war will make you grow up real fast. (Images via Giphy)
We’d all like to think we’re the bravest and strongest of the bunch, but being tough isn’t about how much you can bench. Instead, being tough is simply about not ever giving up or tossing in the towel.
If Mary-Kate and Ashley can be tough, then so can you. (Images via Giphy)Can you think of any others? Comment below.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office hoping to engage diplomatically with North Korea, but as tensions soar between the two countries, he’s considering his offensive options.
Moon called for South Korea to prepare to “immediately switch to offensive operations” if North Korea makes a “provocation that crosses the line,” according to NK News.
Moon told his top military officers they should “strongly push ahead with a reform of the military structure to meet [the requirements] of modern warfare so that it can immediately switch to offensive operations in case North Korea makes a provocation that crosses the line or attacks a metropolitan area,” NK News notes.
Additionally, South Korea is developing a three-axis system to respond to a North Korean attack that contains preemptive strikes on North Korea’s missile systems, air and missile defenses, and something called the “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation system.”
Moon has tried to engage closely with North Korea, even going as far as suggesting the country host some of South Korea’s 2018 Winter Olympics, but to no avail as of yet.
At the same time, South Korea is building up a “decapitation force” meant to kill Kim Jong Un and other key North Korean leaders while building up missile defenses. Under Moon, the country has also developed an impressive ballistic-missile fleet that can drill deep underground to hit high-value targets in bunkers.
South Korean Vice Minister of National Defense Suh Choo Suk told reporters the country hoped to have perfected its offensive and defensive plan to win a war against North Korea by the early 2020s.
No love affair ever ended with more animosity than that of Iran and the United States. To this day, the two countries are constantly antagonizing each other.
Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that led to the holding of 52 American hostages for 444 days, nearly a dozen incidents painted the relationship between the two countries. None was more violent than Operation Praying Mantis, the U.S. response to the USS Samuel B. Roberts striking an Iranian mine.
The Samuel B. Roberts deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Earnest Will, ordered by President Reagan to protect freedom of movement and international shipping in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.
When the ship hit the mine, it became the catalyst for one of the largest American surface confrontations since WWII. At 105 km east of Bahrain, it was close to Iran’s maritime boundary but still well outside. The mine blew a 15-foot hole in the ship’s hull, injuring ten sailors. Luckily, the crew saved the Samuel B. Roberts, and it was towed to Dubai two days later.
For four years leading up to this event, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein planned to bring the U.S. into the ongoing Iran-Iraq War – on his side. In 1984, Iraq started attacking Iranian oil tankers and platforms to provoke the Iranians into taking extreme measures to protect its interests.
The Iranians responded as Hussein hoped, attacking Kuwaiti-flagged oil tankers moving Iraqi oil. Kuwait, though officially Iraq’s ally, was also a non-combatant and a key U.S. ally in the region. The Iranians were also illegally mining the Gulf’s international shipping lanes. Laying mines was an extreme measure Hussein hoped the Iranians would take and a move the United States didn’t take lightly.
In April 1988, Iran was caught mining international waters when U.S. Army Night Stalker MH-6 and AH-6 helicopters forced the crew of the minelayer Iran Ajr by to abandon ship. Navy SEALs then captured the Iran Ajr, finding mines and a log book on the ship’s mine placements. The Navy scuttled the ship the next day.
That’s when the Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine. The U.S. response was overwhelming. Aircraft from the USS Enterprise, along with two Surface Action Groups (SAG), moved on the Iranians on April 18, 1988.
The first SAG attacked the Sassan oil platform with two destroyers, an amphibious transport, and multiple helicopter detachments. Cobra helicopters cleared all resistance. Marines captured the platform and destroyed it as they left.
The other SAG, consisting of a guided missile cruiser and two frigates attacked the Sirri oil platform. The plan called for SEALs to capture the platform, but the pre-attack naval bombardment was so intense the SEAL mission wasn’t necessary.
Iran responded by sending speedboats to attack shipping in the region. American A-6E Intruders sank one and chased the rest back into Iranian territory.
One Iranian fast attack ship, Joshan, challenged the entire second SAG by itself. It got one harpoon missile off before the other ships, the USS Wainwright, the USS Bagley and the USS Simpson hit it with four Standard missiles, then finishing it off with their guns. Chaff countermeasures diverted the Iranian harpoon missile. It did no damage.
An Iranian frigate, Sahand, attacked the USS Joseph Strauss and its A-6E overwatch, who all returned fire with missiles of their own. The American missiles started a fire aboard the Sahand, which reached her munitions magazine. The frigate exploded and sank.
Another frigate, the Sabalan, moved to attack A-6Es from the Enterprise. One naval aviator dropped a Mark 82 laser-guided bomb on the Sabalan’s deck, crippling her and leaving her burning. As the Sabalan was towed away, the A-6Es were ordered to cut off the attack in an effort to keep the situation from escalating. The U.S. cut off all attacks in the region and offered Iran a way out of the situation, which it promptly took.
The U.S. retaliation operation, called Praying Mantis, cost the lives of three service members, Marines whose AH-1T Sea Cobra helicopter gunship crashed in the dark during a recon mission.
British WWII Veteran Roy Vickerman, 90, and Nora Jackson, 89, are getting married after breaking up seventy years ago.
They first met back in 1940, Roy was the new kid in Nora’s high school. According to Vickerman, he was enamored from the moment he laid eyes on her.
“When the teacher told the class there’s a new boy from London, all the faces turned towards me but the only one I saw was Nora,” Vickerman said in a recent interview with ABC News “I thought to myself, she’s the girl for me.”
They were engaged in the summer of 1944 – one week before Vickerman would depart for Normandy. He made it through D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, but never made it to the alter.
Roy served with the famous Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) and Britain’s Highland Light Infantry. In 1945, a bullet from a Nazi sniper shattered a bone in his lower leg that required reconstructive surgery.
His visible wound wouldn’t prevent him from walking down the aisle with his fiance, but his invisible wounds would. He developed ‘shell-shock’ or what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) from the war.
In 1946 Vickerman had called off their wedding due to the hard time he had transitioning into civilian life after his service.
“Nora stayed with me as long as she could,” he told the Daily Mail, “but in the end I wanted to be on my own and she gave me the ring back.”
The two went their separate ways. Vickerman went on to become an architect and Nora worked at a local factory. They each got married and had children. Neither of them heard from the other for seven whole decades.
Last year, Vickerman dialed Graham Torrington’s “Late Night Love” show on BBC radio and reminisced on air about his long lost love. He told the host he wished he could ask her forgiveness for leaving her. The show’s producer ended up tracking down Jackson’s home address. Their homes were only two miles apart, but amazingly had never had run into each other over the years. Vickerman, a widower for four years, hesitated to reach out to her for a week.
“I didn’t want to intrude if Nora had a husband,” he said, “but one day, I just thought, ‘No, I’ll just go get some flowers and tell them I’d like to ask how Nora is and that I’d like to apologize to her for what happened.”
It turned out there was no man in her life for him to be concerned about. Jackson’s husband had passed away 12 years ago.
“Nora came to the door and put her arms around me and gave me a kiss,” he told ABC News “She told me, ‘Oh Roy, I thought I’d never see you again,’ and then she gave me a kiss and said, ‘Hold me.'”
Jackson, who admits to have dreamed about Vickerman, told her side of the story to the Telegraph,
It’s a really lovely story, there’s no doubt about it. It’s so clear in my mind. I heard the bell and I opened the curtain a little bit. I was so taken aback. I knew him straight away but I never thought I would see him again. He had changed a lot but I could still recognise him. We put our arms around one another and we went into the living room and sat and talked for hours. It was a shock to see him because it had been such a long time but it was lovely. It was just like old times.
Four hours into their reunion, he finally went outside to tell the cab driver that he would be staying. They have seen each other every day since. And on March 26th, Vickerman’s 90th birthday, he proposed to her with the same ring he used 72 years before. She said yes.
They couple is planning to get married this summer. “It would certainly do for me if we could wed in a week! We certainly do believe fate brought us together again,” he added. “I’m sure it was the will of God.”
Officials say 12 US paratroopers have been hospitalized after they sustained minor injuries during a nighttime parachute jump in Romania.
Brent M. William, a spokesman for the “Atlantic Resolve” military exercises, told Romania’s Agerpres news agency the accident occurred early July 22 at the Campia Turzii air base in northwest Romania. He said 500 troops jumped from C-130 Hercules planes during “a very rigorous exercise, which carries a certain level of risk.”
The Cluj Military Hospital spokeswoman, Doina Baltaru, said 11 soldiers were discharged July 23 from the hospital. She said one other soldier suffered a bruised spine and would remain hospitalized up to two more days.
The soldiers were participating in Saber Guardian 17, a U.S. Army Europe-led exercise, which aims to increase coordination between the US, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania.
A Marine helicopter was illuminated by a laser fired from an Iranian vessel in the Strait of Hormuz June 14. The incident occured days after a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot down a drone over Syria that was later determined to be from Iran.
“Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles,” Commander Bill Urban, a 5th Fleet spokesperson said.
USNI News reported that the Iranian vessel was a missile boat, and approached the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) and the Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE 11) on the night of June 13.
According to the report, the Iranian missile boat shined a spotlight on the Cole, then painted a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter with a laser, before running a spotlight on the Bataan. The Iranian missile boat came within 800 yards of the U.S. Navy vessels.
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the CH-53E is a heavy-lift cargo helicopter capable of carrying up to 55 troops. It has a top speed of 195 miles per hour and a range of up to 1,140 miles. It is capable of being refueled in midair by tankers like the KC-130. For self-defense it carries chaff and flare dispensers to defeat enemy missiles, and it has three ,50-caliber machine guns.
The three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train bound for Paris will be playing themselves in the upcoming film “The 15:17 to Paris,” directed by Clint Eastwood.
According to a report by the Hollywood Reporter, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone will be acting alongside Jenna Fischer (The Office), Judy Greer, and Ray Croasini in the film. Eastwood, whose films Sully and American Sniper both garnered Academy Award nominations, is producing the film with Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera and Jessica Meier. According to Variety.com, filming of the project began on Tuesday.
TheTrackingBoard.com had reported that Eastwood had initially wanted to cast Kyle Gallner, Jeremie Harris and Alexander Ludwig as the three heroes in the film, which is based on a book by Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone.
On August 21, 2015, Skarlatos, an Oregon National Guard soldier, Stone, an Airman assigned to the 65th Air Base Group, and Sadler, a high school classmate who was attending college, thwarted an attack being carried out by a “lone wolf” terrorist who had an AKM assault rifle. Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler tackled the gunman, whose rifle had jammed, then Stone, a medic, treated a passenger who had been shot in the neck by the jihadist, despite being wounded himself. Skarlatos received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions that day, while Stone received the Airman’s Medal and Purple Heart. Sadler was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal of Valor.
Master Sgt. Tanya Hubbard, 60th Medical Group, left, and Staff Sgt. Roberto Davila, 60th Medical Group, right, tack staff sergeant stripes on to Spencer Stone. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken Wright)
The casting of Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler is not the first time a military hero portrayed himself. In 1955, Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy portrayed himself in “To Hell and Back,” based on his 1949 memoirs. It should also be noted that in 2012, the movie Act of Valor starred Navy SEALs as themselves, but in a fictional scenario. The SEALs were not formally credited in the movie directed by Scott Waugh and “Mouse” McCoy.
Veterans of the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery unless policies are changed — even if they were bestowed the Medal of Honor, a new report says.
There are 21 million living veterans in the U.S., but the cemetery has room for only 73,000 burials.
Currently, any veteran with an honorable discharge and at least one day of active duty is eligible for interment there at Arlington. That’s a lower bar than the cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which require two years of active duty service. (RELATED: VA Insists On Paper Records, Slowing Payments To Private Docs But Creating Union Jobs)
Largely thanks to the one-day-minimum policy, the cemetery will be closed even to those killed in action — known as “first interments” — by 2042.
“If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate under current policies, it must be expanded geographically and/or alter the iconic look and feel of the cemetery,” an Army report presented to Congress August 23 said. “If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate without expansion, eligibility must change or it will close for first interments by mid-century.”
That’s only 26 years into the future, meaning veterans of recent wars, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, have little hope of burial there when they die later in life. “With current policies, Veterans of the Gulf War, Somalia, [Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom] era cannot expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, even if awarded the Medal of Honor,” the report says.
Between 1967 and 1980, burial at Arlington was limited to those killed in action (KIA), retired career, and medal of honor recipients. If the policy is changed to limit the cemetery to KIAs only, the cemetery will have enough space for hundreds of years.
But doing so would disenfranchise Vietnam veterans, the youngest of whom will be octogenarians around 2040 and many of whom already felt mistreated by their country.
Besides changing policy, the cemetery can consider more compact and above-ground burials, which would risk losing the “serene and ordered look … with its rows of white headstones, trees, and tasteful historical and ceremonial spaces.”
It could also expand, either by acquiring neighboring land — which is hard to come by in Arlington — or at a new site. One such expansion is already taken into account in the projections.
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A military K-9 injured in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan along with his military police officer partner now has a lot of support after a photo of the dog wearing a Purple Heart Medal in a hospital in Germany has gone viral, the Killeen Daily Herald reports.
Spc. Andrew Brown, 22, and his military dog, Rocky, were searching a structure for explosive materials in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province Dec. 3 when the bomb exploded, the Texas newspaper reported Friday.
“They were working with Special Operations Forces in an effort to identify explosive materials,” Army spokesman Sgt. Michal Garrett told the paper.
Brown and Rocky survived the blast and were taken to a military hospital in Germany. There, a photo was taken of Rocky wearing the Purple Heart and posted on the Facebook page of Fort Hood’s 89th Military Police Brigade. Brown is assigned to the brigade.
The photo had more than 89,000 likes, 118,000 shares and more than 9,500 comments as of Sunday morning.
“The Army typically does not process awards for our working dogs the same way we do for our other soldiers,” Garrett told the Daily Herald. “The Purple Heart in the photo was placed on Rocky as a sign of respect and solidarity between him and Brown during their recovery.”
Two days ago the brigade posted another photo of Brown and Rocky in a hospital room on Facebook that said, “They are both very thankful for your thoughts and prayers and are in the process of heading back home.
The post said Brown had arrived earlier Friday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Hospital in Washington where he was met by his waiting family.
The Daily Herald reported that Brown, of Eliot, Maine, suffered non-life threatening injuries and will undergo a series of tests for traumatic brain injury. The tests are routine for soldiers injured by roadside bombs.
Rocky is expected to return to Fort Hood in the coming weeks. The canine suffered shrapnel wounds and a broken leg.
The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for years, becoming the subject of the Dale Brown novel “Sky Masters” and Tom Clancy’s SSN video game and tie-in book.
It’s a seven-way Mexican standoff between the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam.
And you thought Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” had it bad in that final standoff in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
But the United States Navy has been willing to challenge the PRC’s claims in the region. A recent U.S. Navy release discussed how the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) “conducted routine operations” while transiting the South China Sea. That region has recently become hotter with the ruling by an arbitration panel in favor of the Philippines, who were objecting to China’s claims.
The problem, of course, is that the ChiComs took a page from everyone’s favorite sociopath from “Game of Thrones” — one Cersei Lannister. They didn’t bother to show up for the arbitration proces, even though they had to have known the consequences. And they probably didn’t care.
In essence, what the McCain did was a freedom of navigation exercise. This sounds innocuous, but in reality it is only slightly less touchy than an invite from a samurai to take part in a “comparison of techniques.”
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) fires its MK-45 5-inch/54-caliber lightweight gun. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alonzo M. Archer/Released)
You see, a “freedom of navigation” exercise usually involves the American vessel operating in international waters that a certain country may not recognize as international waters. In essence, the United States is asserting: “No, these are international waters.”
What happened to the USS Yorktown was mild, though. Let’s go back more than 30 years to see how rough those exercises can really get.
In March of 1986, the Navy was sent to carry out some “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back against Moammar Qaddafi. In 1981, similar exercises had resulted in the downing of two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter” attack planes that took some ill-advised shots at Navy F-14s.
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), the Republic of Korea navy destroyer ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972), and the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Jeju (FF 958) participate in a joint exercise during Foal Eagle 2015. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
That was why three carriers, the USS Coral Sea (CV 43), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS America (CV 66) were involved in the 1986 round of “Freedom of Navigation” exercises.
On 23 March, the exercises began. The next day, the shooting started.
The Libyans started by firing SA-2 and SA-5 missiles at Navy F-14s. Shortly afterwards, MiG-23 “Floggers” tried to engage some Tomcats, but broke off after an intense dogfight.
By the end of the day, Libya had lost a new Nanuchka II-class corvette, a Combattante II-class missile boat, saw a Nanuchka and a Combattante II disabled, while several surface-to-air missile sites ended up being live-fire tests for the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).
Fast forward to January 1989.
American forces were operating near the Gulf of Sidra when two MiG-23s came looking for a fight, and got shot down by a pair of F-14s. Once again, the “freedom of navigation” exercises had lead to shots being fired.
Something to keep in mind the next time you hear of such exercises. When sailors are sent there, they could find themselves in a fight.
Navy veteran and Food Network Allstar, August Dannehl cooks a four course meal for his fellow vets based on stories from their service. A braised pork belly inspired by the MRE’s feared dehydrated pork product, Chicken Tagine inspired by a training mission in Morocco – these elements provide the backdrop for a holiday celebration between veterans.
When vet comic James P. Connolly (host of WATM’s “Vet on the Streets” series) was in the Marine Corps, he experienced a rawer version of the MRE. Without pomp and frills, many of the early MREs contained something called Dehydrated Pork Product. The only solution to this madness was the tiny Tabasco sauce bottle slipped into the box.
Braised Pork Belly with Cipollini Jam and Tabasco Caramel
Inspired by James’ memory of the early MRE with ”Dehydrated Pork Product”
2 lb pork belly
2 cups cola
2 cups beer
1/2 cup soy sauce(low salt)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup ginger (thinly sliced)
4 garlic cloves
1 large onion (diced)
2 large carrots (diced)
2 strips bacon
1 lb cipollini onions (sliced)
1 cup cola
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tb butter
1/4 tabasco sauce
2 tb agave syrup
2 tsp xanthan gum
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
scallions (chopped) for garnish
Prepare the pork belly by scoring the skin crossways and placing in a large plastic bag with ginger, 2 cloves garlic, soy sauce and brown sugar. Seal bag and let sit in refrigerator overnight.
Heat olive oil in medium sauce pan and add cipollini to sweat. Once translucent, about 3-5 minutes, add cola and vinegar, reduce heat to lowest possible and reduce until the consistency of thick jam.
Meanwhile, heat tabasco, agave syrup and butter over medium heat for 2 minutes. Once heated, add xanthan gum and stir until tabasco separates into thick caramel-like syrup.
Preheat oven to 300°. Render bacon in large, oven-safe pan over medium heat, add onion, the rest of the garlic, carrots and sauté for 5 minutes. Raise temperature of pan to high and add a tb or so of olive oil to pan. Add pork belly mixture, starting skin side down and let cook for 3 mins of each side.
Add cola and beer and let cook for 10 minutes. Once liquid is reduced by 1/4 place entire pan in oven and let braise for 2 hours covered then 1 hour uncovered until the meat is very tender.
To serve heat skin of belly with kitchen torch(or broiler) for 2 mins to crisp skin and serve with tabasco caramel and cipollini jam.
The Senate approved broad legislation June 6 to make firing employees easier for the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs, part of an accountability effort urged by President Donald Trump following years of high-profile problems.
The bipartisan measure passed by voice vote. It comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for appointments. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.
The bill would lower the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the measure was viewed as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House’s version — 180 days vs. 45 days — though workers would not be paid during that appeal. VA executives also would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.
The bill now goes back to the House, where the revisions are expected to be approved.
Trump praised the bill Tuesday night and urged the House to act quickly. ” Senate passed the VA Accountability Act,” he wrote on Twitter. ” The Houseshould get this bill to my desk ASAP! We can’t tolerate substandard care for our vets.”
The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The Associated Press reported last week that federal authorities were investigating dozens of new cases of possible opioid and other drug theft by employees at VA hospitals, even after theVA announced “zero tolerance” in February. Since 2009, in only about 3 percent of the reported cases of drug loss or theft have doctors, nurses or pharmacy employees been disciplined.
“The overwhelming majority of the people who work at the VA are good, hard-working employees who serve our veterans well,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “But it has become clear under the current law the VA is often unwilling or unable to hold individuals appropriately accountable for their actions and misdeeds.”
He was a lead sponsor of the bill along with Democrat Jon Tester of Montana and Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
“To shield employees from consequences brings down the entire department, it demoralizes the workforce and undermines the core mission of the VA,” Rubio said.
The Senate bill would codify into law a Trump campaign promise — a permanent VA accountability office, which was established in April by executive order. The legislation would give the head of the accountability office more independent authority and require regular updates to Congress. The office would also maintain a toll-free number and website to receive anonymous whistleblower disclosures.
In a “State of the VA” report released last week, VA Secretary David Shulkin described an employee accountability process that was “clearly broken.” He said the VA had about 1,500 disciplinary actions against employees on hold, citing a required waiting period of at least a month before taking action for misconduct.
Dan Caldwell, policy director of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America, hailed the bill’s passage as “long overdue.”
“The regular horror stories have made it clear that veterans deserve much better,” he said.
Despite problems at the VA, Congress has had difficulty coming to agreement on a bill. A 2014 law gave the VA greater power to discipline executives, but the department stopped using that authority after the Obama Justice Department deemed it likely unconstitutional. Last month, a federal appeals court temporarily overturned the VA firing of Phoenix VA hospital director Sharon Helman over the wait-time scandal.