VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs - We Are The Mighty
Intel

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs

A change in leadership often brings a fresh perspective and set of priorities, and several veterans service organizations are optimistic that a new VA secretary will mean an opportunity to push agendas that best serve veterans.

Shortly after the Senate voted to confirm Denis McDonough as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, we reached out to several VSOs to gather opinions on what should top his list of goals. 

“We are looking forward to working with him,” said Mario Marquez, national legislative director for the American Legion. “Our number one priority is taking care of veterans and their families.” 

Marquez said that in the short term, that looks like addressing issues brought on by COVID-19, including reducing the significant CMP (comprehensive medical panel) backlog that is preventing veterans from being able to adjudicate health claims as well as eliminating financial boundaries that stop the elderly, particularly World War II vets, from receiving care. 

He noted that mental health is a “perennial issue,” but particularly crucial in this time of increased isolation. 

“We have these veterans who go from being in a highly-connected social environment, and they go back into a society where people are much more individualistic, where the idea of being part of a community is more than about just being co-located geographically.” 

Marquez said the Legion works on connecting secluded vets through its Buddy Checks program, and he would like the VA, under McDonough’s tutelage, to join the organization in implementing a Buddy Check week that encourages peer support and engagement through vets reaching out and checking in with one another.

AMVETS’ National Communications Manager Miles Migliara agrees mental health should be at the forefront of McDonough’s plans for reform — the number one priority, in fact. 

“It’s no longer sufficient for the Department of Veterans Affairs to congratulate themselves on 1-2% gains when 6,000-plus veterans lose their lives every year,” he said. “We need a paradigm shift with regards to mental health and suicide. We can continue with the status quo, or we can create meaningful change.”

He suggested that the VA becomes more receptive to alternative mental healthcare treatments and programs, such as acupuncture, equestrian therapy, and more.

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Replace cutline: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis R. McDonough at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. Photo by Lisa Ferdinando.

“The President’s Roadmap to Empo​wer Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) executive order, signed into law in 2019, allows for funding and resources to be provided to certain non-traditional methods programs in an effort to curb veteran suicide,” Migliara said. “It is crucial that the VA provides whatever support possible to see that these programs succeed.”

Another pertinent piece of legislation, he said, is the MISSION Act, also signed into law in 2019, that allows rural vets to more easily receive healthcare close to home. Also on the AMVETS wish list? Formulating and executing a better plan of action and culture of tackling and preventing sexual assault on VA campuses and creating a more welcoming environment for women and minority veterans. 

Marquez echoed the same sentiments, especially since women are the fastest-growing veteran demographic, he said. 

“They are more engaged at the VA as a result of their service,” he said. “And they are not traditionally set up to address the needs of women veterans. The VA needs to make adjustments to make sure they receive the gender-specific care they need.”

Hannah Sinoway, executive vice present, organization, strategy, and engagement, of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said they are focused on oversight of the implementation of both the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act and the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. Both of these bills would decrease gaps in care for women veterans, as well as make much-needed updates to mental health care and outreach to veterans that are not connected to VA services, she noted. 

She said IAVA believes that McDonough brings senior leadership, policy, and Congressional expertise to the VA, as well as a beneficial and strong personal connection to the President. 

“Running VA is a massive job that few are fully prepared for on day one,” she said. “He has an incredibly steep learning curve in front of him. But he also has the ear and respect of President Biden as well as the ability to bring about policy reforms and attention by the White House and senior leaders that are needed for the improvement of VA. In his first few weeks, IAVA has been encouraged by his outreach and communication to the VSO community and we look forward to continuing our work with him.”

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

Intel

Army scientists close to creating advanced COVID-19 vaccine

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) is neck deep in the battle against COVID-19 by developing their own vaccine. In typical American military fashion, these soldiers hope to create the best and most effective weapon against the virus. 

As of April 7, 2021, almost 20% of the United States has been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Despite there being three available options for vaccines circulating throughout the country and availability of vaccines opening up to the public at large, the Army is looking ahead. It’s something they’ve been doing for a long time.

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
 Capt. Bryan Carmichael, Commanding Officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), receives his second injection of the Covid-19 vaccine.

For over 100 years the Army has been studying viruses and working on vaccinations. Their roots go all the way back to 1893 as the scientists within WRAIR continually dedicated themselves to soldier readiness and preventing death. “When we send soldiers around the world, they not only face the threat of the enemy, they face the threat of diseases that we don’t have here in the United States,” Col. Deydre Teyhen, commander of WRAIR, said in an interview with ABC News. “And so our job at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is to create ways to prevent that and protect them.”

The Army’s far-reaching contributions to the scientific community have been revolutionary throughout history and they hope to do it again against COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, they’ve been quietly working on a vaccination against the virus wreaking havoc on the world. Their animal trials have progressed to humans and hopes are high. Retired Army Col. Francis Holinaty stepped forward and volunteered to be the first human test subject. 

soldiers getting covid-19 vaccine
Cpt. Aaron Sanborn injects Francis Holinaty on the first day of clinical testing for WRAIR’s spike ferritin nanoparticle (SpFN) vaccine at the WRAIR Clinical Trials Center. Built on a ferritin platform, the vaccine offers a flexible approach to targeting multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 and potentially other coronaviruses as well.

“Amazingly, in that growing landscape of vaccines, our approach is unique,” Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, the director for emerging infectious diseases at WRAIR said in an interview with ABC News. “It presents that part of the virus, the spike protein that’s the hook that gets attached to your lung cells, a lot of vaccines just present one of those to the immune system. Our approach presents them multiple times.”

From there, the antibodies should provoke a response to the protein spike it’s presented with. The vaccine being developed by WRAIR also skips some of the steps seen in the other vaccines by bringing the protein spike and immune boosting components together for the recipient. The results in animals have shown it to be very promising according to Modjarrad in his interview, even against the highly contagious variants currently causing a new wave of infections. 

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Soldiers pose after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, on Dec. 23, 2020. The Moderna vaccine is a good start, but the Army is looking for more comprehensive options.

Another factor that makes it stand out is its durability, if it’s successful in humans. The current model of their vaccine doesn’t require freezing and could make its way safely on an Amazon truck without fear of the vaccine being ruined. 

The uniqueness of their approach is that it aims to target not just the COVID-19 virus and the variants, but all Coronaviruses. As a team, WRAIR recognizes that the world needs to think ahead to the next Coronavirus, because science has shown that there will be more. By doing the work they’re doing, these soldiers are ensuring the United States will be ready and able to respond. 

Intel

This ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ actor went to Syria to fight ISIS

A former “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor has left Hollywood to battle the Islamic State in Syria, despite having no previous military experience.


English-born Michael Enright, 51, said in a filmed interview with the Gulf-based AlAlan TV network that the extremist organization is “a stain on humanity,” and one that he personally hopes to destroy.

The actor has also stated that his decision to serve was triggered by a desire to right what he considers a national wrong, referring to the execution of American journalist James Foley by a member of ISIS who is believed to be British.

Enright fights alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has become a pivotal player in the American led alliance against ISIS.

The Telegraph writes:

Mr. Enright is one of dozens of foreign fighters have travelled to the self-styled Kurdish enclave of Rojava to join the fight. Most have a military background. Many have been recruited via Facebook, and some have funded their airfare on crowd funding websites.

Check out the AlAlan TV video below for the full interview:

Intel

Russian media’s Putin coverage is North Korea-kind of ridiculous

You may have heard stories from North Korea’s state media that sound just plain silly. Like the time, Kim Jong-Il phoned the North Korean soccer coach during their World Cup match against Brazil with the invisible phone he invented. Or the time Kim Jong-Il played golf for the first time and finished with 11 holes-in-one. The list goes on.


Related: 11 things you didn’t know about North Korea

Russian state media is following North Korea’s playbook in the way it presents President Vladimir Putin. After all, there isn’t anything Putin can’t do.

He’s skilled in Judo martial arts . . .

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
YouTube, Vox

He’s a race car driver …

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
YouTube, Vox

He’s an archeologist …

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Image: Shirtless Putin Doing Things

 

… And he’s a stud who goes hunting shirtless.

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Image: Shirtless Putin Doing Things

But he also has a soft side.

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Image: Shirtless Putin Doing Things

Although this may seem silly to the rest of the western world, there’s a reason behind this image.

Watch:

Intel

Russia’s ‘worst-kept secret’ is its dependence on mercenaries to project power

The days of the United States staring down the evil empire of the Soviet Union are long passed. Today, Russia is a Wal-Mart version of its former self, and it shows. Although it may seem like a military or strategic powerhouse, it’s ability to project real power is seriously limited. 

In the bygone Russian heyday, the communist threat loomed large. It was a threat that was enough to make the United States – the only other global superpower – limit its wars and interventions for fear of sparking another world war. 

Today, Russia’s biggest threat comes in the form of either bungled poisonings of former Soviet-era operatives and dissidents, election interference, and hacking corporate software that allowed it to collect intelligence on government email servers. 

While the SolarWinds hack was definitely threatening and potentially disastrous, it’s not really the great power struggles we’ve come to expect from an increasingly belligerent Russia. In real terms, according to the RAND Corporation, Russia isn’t really able to make a significant threat to forces on the ground… Unless you happen to be within arms reach.

In a March 2021 blog post, the RAND Corporation’s Molly Dunigan and Ben Connable wrote that Russia’s ability to project power on the ground has actually become a strategic vulnerability, and one the Biden Administration could exploit, if it chose to do so.

“It has almost no organic ability to project and sustain ground power more than a few hundred kilometers beyond its own borders. Russian strategic lift is anemic compared to Soviet-era lift. Available forces are often tied down in one of the many frozen conflicts that ring Russia’s western and southern borders,” they write. 

The conflicts they are referring to are most notably the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War and backing separatist rebels in Ukraine. 

Russia, they posit, depends on an army full of drafted Russians who are serving one-year enlistments, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decreed that drafted Russians will never be deployed outside of Russia. Those forces make up around half of Russia’s total ground force. 

Instead of using its drafted army to project power, Russia instead uses companies that provide military services, some might call them “mercenaries” to reach its foreign policy goals in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, Burundi, and elsewhere. 

Russia
Russia’s Ceremonial Guard still looks polished, but the Russian military’s power is not what it once was.

Russia will contend that its use of mercenaries alongside its special operations and conventional forces allows it to compete with the United States, Dunigan and Connablle wrote, but that narrative is counterfactual. Such a force actually squared off against a force of United States special operators and Kurdish SDF fighters in Khasham, Syria in 2018. The fight did not go well for the Russians, their mercenaries, and their Syrian allies. 

500 Russian, Syrian, and Shia Militiamen with T-72 and T-55 tanks hit a base of 40 special forces troops, backed by United States Marine Corps artillery, U.S. Air Force “Spooky” gunships, and more firepower were quickly routed in Khasham, losing a quarter of the attacking force in the firefight. It wasn’t even close. 

Rather than bolstering the Russian military on the ground, the mercenaries are instead an example in the decline of the former Soviet Union’s ground force, indicative of its increasing dependence on small, special operations missions and sneaky espionage tactics. But these too are things the United States will have to learn to counter as Russia’s skills with them grow.

Intel

William Shatner is traveling the US on a crazy-looking motorcycle to promote vets

Set phasers to stun — Capt. Kirk’s new ride looks even cooler than the USS Enterprise.


Famed Star Trek actor William Shatner is about to embark on an eight-day road tour on a crazy-looking motorcycle in order to raise awareness of The American Legion veterans organization. According to the Legion, Shatner will have select members of The American Legion Riders and the makers of the bike alongside him on the trip from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Shatner will be riding the Rivet Motors “Landjet” 3-wheeled motorcycle. Created by Wrench Works, the sleek, V-8 powered trike looks like it’s been pulled straight out of the Klingon Empire, but Shatner seems too excited by the motorcycle’s futuristic design to worry about what the Federation might think.

The 8-day road tour will begin on June 23 outside of the Windy City, and will pass through several major cities including Oklahoma City, Flagstaff and Las Vegas.

To see hear more about Shatner’s tour, check out the video below:

DON’T MISS: The Pentagon is developing a dirt bike that barely makes a sound

(h/t New York Daily News)

Intel

Donald Trump: ‘I always felt that I was in the military’ by attending a military school

Donald Trump never served a day in the military, but he tells a biographer that he “always felt that I was in the military” with his attendance at a military school in his teenage years, according to excerpts from the forthcoming book obtained by The New York Times.


The book, “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” by Michael D’Antonio, will be published on Sep. 22. In interviews with the author, Trump reflects on his five years spent at the New York Military Academy as something akin to actually serving in uniform.

“My [Vietnam draft] number was so incredible and it was a very high draft number,” Trump told D’Antonio. “Anyway so I never had to do that, but I felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people.”

Of the academy, which notes on its website that most graduates do not pursue a military career, Trump said he received “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has spoken on military service. In July, he attacked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his record in Vietnam, saying “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Check out the full report at the Times

Intel

Meet The Dutch Biker Gang Fighting Against ISIL

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Photo: Peachy Weasel/ Flickr


It’s perfectly legal for Dutch citizens to join the fight against ISIL.

Since late last year, members of the “No Surrender” biker gang have joined Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Klaas Otto, the leader of the group, has confirmed that at least three of the gang’s members were in Syria, according to The Daily Mail.

Also Read: These Incredibly Brave Activists Expose The Terror Of Living Under ISIL Control

“Joining a foreign armed force was previously punishable, now it’s no longer forbidden,” public prosecutor spokesman Wim de Bruin told AFP.

However, to be clear, you can’t join a foreign force — i.e. ISIL — against the Netherlands.

The story of Dutch citizens wanting to fight against ISIL seems natural, according to The Daily Beast:

So many lunatics from Europe, including from The Netherlands, have joined the head-choppers of ISIS, and here was a group of badasses on choppers out to kill those bastards. It was promoted on what might be called not-quite-mainstream or, indeed, axe-to-grind media. It cropped up on a Kurdish channel and on a local German channel. Then RT, Russian Television, fell in love with it. So did the British tabloids. And a New York one. And the story just keeps rolling.

Here’s a two-minute BBC interview with the leader of “No Surrender” explaining their involvement in the fight against the terrorist organization:

NOW: The Pentagon Is Developing A Dirt Bike That Barely Makes A Sound

ALSO: Hilarious Video Shows What Marines Stationed In 29 Palms Don’t Say

Intel

Marines improvise an awesome waterslide during a rain storm

Marines definitely know how to improvise, adapt, and overcome.


Even in the worst of conditions, they know how to make the best of it. This video we found on the Terminal Lance Facebook page certainly shows that.

Rain may put a damper on your day, or it could brighten it up after you go down the waterslide. Watch:

// ![CDATA[/pp(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1#038;version=v2.3”; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));/pp// ]]

Rain loves Marines.

Posted by Terminal Lance on Thursday, May 28, 2015

Semper Gumby!

(h/t Terminal Lance)

NOW: One photo shows how a US Marine totally wins at barracks life

OR: Hilarious video shows what Marines stationed in 29 Palms don’t say

Intel

The awesome callsigns of the pilots bombing ISIS

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Photo: Youtube.com


The U.S. has conducted more than 4,700 air strikes against ISIS militants since Aug. 2014, and the American pilots carrying out those attacks often have awesome — and sometimes hilarious — callsigns.

In an interesting article for The New York Times, journalist Helene Cooper profiles some of the pilots flying from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, who go by names like “Yip Yip,” “Pope,” and “Pizza.” The pilots talk about some of their missions to strike inside Iraq and Syria and the camaraderie among their squadron.

“Quite honestly, the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines own the skies,” Maj. Anthony Bourke, a former Air Force fighter pilot, told The Times. “So even though pilots dream of dogfights, the biggest risk now is small-arms fire, and if you stay above 10,000 feet, you’re not going to be hit.”

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
(Photo: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski)

Though the Times article does not explain how they got their new names, it’s well known in the fighter pilot community that callsigns are usually earned during a “naming ceremony,” where fellow pilots bestow a newbie with something of a play on their name, or a name that evokes a past screw-up (cool names like “Iceman” or “Maverick” are usually out of the question).

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71)

So who are the mystery men flying in on F/A-18s to strike terrorist infrastructure? According to the photo spread accompanying the article, they are:

  • “Yard Sale” — Navy fighter pilot
  • “Chaz” — Navy fighter pilot
  • “Xerxes” — Navy weapons officer
  • “Pope” — Marine fighter pilot
  • “Yip Yip” — Navy fighter pilot
  • “Pickle” — Navy fighter pilot
  • “Skull” — Marine fighter pilot
  • “Pope” — Marine fighter pilot
  • “Betty” — Marine fighter pilot (and yes, he’s a guy)
  • “Sweet P” — Navy weapons officer
  • “Smoat” — Navy fighter pilot
  • “Bones” — Navy weapons officer
  • “Pizza” — the commander of the Roosevelt’s air wing

Now after an ISIS truck gets blown to bits, we know it may have all been the work of a guy named Yard Sale.

Now check out the Times article

OR: That time when Americans and Germans fought together during World War II

Articles

This is why ‘Star Wars’ is actually a series of WWII-style spy thrillers

People see the world through the lens of their own experiences. If you spent much of your career working and then studying intelligence, you may start to see potential spies everywhere.


VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Nothing suspicious here, though. (20th Century Fox)

Also Read: Star Wars tech we could really use in Iraq and Afghanistan

Dr. Vince Houghton is a U.S. Army veteran and Historian and Curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. He grew up watching and loving the original Star Wars Trilogy. While in the Army, he served in a sort of intelligence role and after leaving the military, he earned a Ph.D. in Intelligence History with a background in diplomatic military history.

Every year on May 4th, he gives a lecture at the museum, making the argument for Star Wars being a series of spy films.

“People always debate about it,” Houghton says. “Is this fantasy, is this sci-fi, is it a western in space? For whatever reason, I’ve always seen it as a spy movie.”

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
She has no idea what you’re talking about. She’s on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan. (20th Century Fox)

Houghton argues that the backbone of the original trilogy is a spy operation — a story made into the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. That story is the catalyst for Star Wars IV: A New Hope, which he sees as a classic spy movie.

“You could replace the death star with V2 or V1 or a German atomic bomb or the Iranian atomic bomb or any kind of scientific and technological intelligence and it becomes a spy movie,” he says. “Strip away all the science fiction and it’s a woman with stolen plans for a weapon trying to get them to a group of guerrillas fighting against this totalitarian empire — it could be the World War II resistance.”

But Houghton takes his argument further.

“With Empire Strikes Back, the whole thing is kicked off by the Empire attempting to use imagery intelligence, their drones, their probes, to locate the secret base of the rebels,” he says. “It’s still an intelligence operation, just a different kind.”

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Houghton claims Return of the Jedi is a story based on intelligence gathering and counterintelligence.

“That’s also the catalyst behind Return of the Jedi,” Houghton says. “It’s stealing the plans for the second death star. It turns out, that’s actually a big deception operation — another key issue when it comes to intelligence.”

The Spy Museum Curator is talking about Emperor Palpatine allowing the Rebel Alliance to know the location of the second Death Star. Rebel Bothan spies capture the location and plans for the space station, but it’s a ruse for the Emperor to defeat the Rebel fleet on his chosen battlespace; it was a trap, a classic deception operation designed to hide the true strength of his forces.

“You could go all the way back to Mongolians in this case,” says Houghton. “Genghis Khan did everything from tying brooms to his horses’ tails so it would kick up a lot of dust and make sure it looked like there were thousands of soldiers instead of hundreds.”

In the case of Return of the Jedi, the Emperor’s plan just didn’t work because, you know, it’s Star Wars.

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Everyone’s favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder. (20th Century Fox)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters Dec. 16th. You can catch more of Dr. Vince Houghton on the International Spy Museum’s weekly podcast, Spycast, on iTunes and AudioBoom.

Articles

This rifle makes posting your kills to Facebook easier

VSOs share hopes for the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Image: TrackingPoint


TrackingPoint’s rifle technology is known for making the marksman equation easier. However, one of their little-known features is the onboard streaming technology.

Related: This rifle can turn anyone into an American Sniper

With wearable technology, such as Google Glass or Recon Jet, shooters can stand behind a corner and still aim at a target. Not only does the sight stream from the rifle to wearable device, it also streams to mobile phones, tablets, and computers to anyone in the world over the Internet. This makes it easier to share your kills to Facebook rather than tasking your spotter to record video. Just sayin’.

Of course, while TrackingPoint makes real-life shooting seem easier than video game sniping, one should never take skills for granted. After all, it is technology, and technology breaks.

Here’s TrackingPoint’s streaming technology in action:

TrackingPoint, YouTube

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