The awards that decorate a troop’s dress uniform have meaning. If a troop does something extraordinary, there are plenty of awards they might earn, depending on the specific heroics. There are medals for more mundane actions, as well. If they serve at a specific location, like going overseas or even to Antarctica, in support of a military campaign, they’re likely to earn a medal. Enlisting at a certain time during conflict adds the National Defense Service Medal to your ribbons rack. However, there’s one award that sticks out as ridiculous — the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (MOVSM).
All that’s required by this medal is that a troop (active duty, reserve, or national guard) performs a substantial volunteer service to the local community. The idea behind establishing the award in 1993 was to incentivize troops to do great deeds that would reflect highly on military service. In reality, it’s often seen as just another box to check.
We’re not disparaging charitable action, especially when it shines a good light on military service, but here’s why the award itself is silly.
5. The Humanitarian Service Medal already exists
The Humanitarian Service Medal is given to troops who participate in acts like disaster relief or the evacuation of refugees from a hostile area. The difference between this medal and the MOVSM is that this one is earned while on duty.
The HSM goes to the troops who were sent, let’s say, to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The MOVSM, however, might go to the troop who helped put together a few potluck dinners. Both are the reward for doing a good deed but, according to the military, both nearly as prestigious as the other…
…which leads troops to not care about helping. (Image via GIPHY)
4. The criteria for earning one is vague
Every other award has clean-cut requirements. Have you been to this location or not? How does this act of heroism compare to other selfless acts? Were you able to be a good troop for three years or at least not get caught? This medal is an exception.
If a troop spends every weekend for a decade helping train the Boy Scouts, that’s a Volunteer Service Medal. If a troop says, “yeah, I got time. I can help you with that.” That act might be just as worthy, according to the nebulous criteria.
3. Standards range from impossible to non-existent
Many units see this award as ridiculous and put unreasonable restrictions on it. According to Army Regulation 600-8-22, to earn the MOVSM, one must exceed 3 years and/or 500 hours of service. Many times, a unit will ask for a proof-of-hours sheet that highlights how each of those hours was spent.
On the other side of the coin, the only definitive requirement — as outlined by the DoD — is that the good deed has tangible results and is not a single act. Many troops can tell you that they’ve earned this act simply by preparing and then attending a charity event. Boom. Instant award. Meanwhile, the Soldier who became his son’s Scout Leader has two years, 11 months, and three weeks to go to earn the same accolade.
Chances are that it’ll still get denied. (Image via GIPHY)
2. There’s no citation
The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal is still a service medal. The award gets put in and, if it’s approved, the troop receives it. A commendation medal, on the other hand, is reflective of a specific, heroic action.
Technically speaking, there doesn’t need to be a formation and award ceremony for a MOVSM. The troop should just add it to their record and move on.
No need to waste everyone’s time with a BS award. (Image via GIPHY)
1. You can do the paperwork yourself and not need proof
By now, you’re probably already thinking about this point. If all that’s required is an hours sheet, how can you make sure a troop actually did what they claim? You can’t, really.
Troops who make a habit of volunteering, time and time again, over the course of three years are clearly not doing it for a single award worth five promotion points. They genuinely care. The guy who put on a couple of community potlucks doesn’t care about the volunteer service — they’re in it for the pat on the back.
Without a uniform standard on how to earn one, the award means almost nothing.
You don’t need to confess. Just know if you lied to get one, you suck. (Image via GIPHY)
Nearly two months after its commercial launch, a private Israeli spacecraft has slipped into lunar orbit and will soon try landing on the moon’s surface.
The dishwasher-size robot, called Beresheet (a biblical reference that means “in the beginning”) could pull off the first private moon landing in history if all goes according to plan. The mission could also make Israel the fourth nation ever to have a spacecraft survive a lunar-landing attempt.
Beresheet launched aboard a SpaceX rocket on Feb. 21, 2019. Over the past six weeks, the roughly 1,300-lb robot has gradually accelerated its way toward the moon. SpaceIL, a nonprofit group based out of Tel Aviv University, researched, designed, and built the spacecraft since 2011 on a mostly private budget of about $100 million.
On April 8, 2019, mission controllers fired Beresheet’s engines to achieve an elliptical orbit around the moon. At its farthest, Beresheet moves about 290 miles (467 kilometers) above the lunar surface; at its closest, the spacecraft’s altitude is 131 miles (211 kilometers) — about twice as close as the International Space Station is to Earth.
The “Beresheet” lunar robot prior to its launch aboard a SpaceX rocket.
During the operation, Beresheet photographed the moon’s far side, above, from about 342 miles (550 kilometers) away. (The spacecraft also took several selfies with Earth during its flight to the moon.)
Now that Beresheet is within striking distance of a lunar landing, SpaceIL is waiting for the precise moment to blast Beresheet’s thrusters one last time. The engine burn will slow down the spacecraft, cause the four-legged robot to fall out of lunar orbit, and gently touch down on the moon’s surface.
SpaceIL expects Beresheet to land on the moon sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 11, 2019, according to an emailed press release. The group will also broadcast live footage of its historic lunar-landing attempt.
“This joint mission of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will be broadcast live via satellite for a pool feed and live streamed with access to all media,” SpaceIL said in its email, noting that the broadcast would show views from inside the spacecraft’s mission control center in Yehud, Israel.
The video feed, embedded below, should activate on Thursday afternoon.
SpaceIL got its start in 2011 on the heels of the Google Lunar XPrize, which offered more than million to the first privately funded entity to land on the moon and pull off a series of difficult tasks.
Three engineers took a stage during a space conference and announced their intentions to build and launch a lunar lander — gumption that caught the attention of South African-born billionaire Morris Kahn.
“They seemed very proud of themselves, and I thought that this was rather neat,” Kahn previously told Business Insider.
“They said, ‘Money? Money, what’s that for?’ I said, ‘Without money, you’re not going to get anywhere,'” Kahn said. “I said to them, ‘Look, come to my office, I’ll give you 0,000 — no questions asked — and you can start.’ And that was how I innocently got involved in this tremendous project.”
The mission ultimately cost about 0 million — a fraction of the 9 million that NASA spent in the 1960s on seven similarly sized Surveyor moon landers. NASA’s sum would be roughly .5 billion today (about 0 million per mission) when adjusting for inflation.
Kahn said he’s personally invested about million in the venture. Although the lunar XPrize ended in 2018 without a winner, despite several years’ worth of extensions, SpaceIL found additional funding from private sources with Kahn’s help.
“I don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery.” Kahn said. “I’d like to feel that I’ve used my money productively.”
He added: “I wanted to show that Israel — this little country with a population of about 6 or 8 million people — could actually do a job that was only done by three major powers in the world: Russia, China, and the United States. Could Israel innovate and actually achieve this objective with a smaller budget, and being a smaller country, and without a big space industry backing it?”
April 11, 2019, planet Earth will find out.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair (“electoral process and pluralism”), whether governments have checks and balances (“functioning of government”), whether citizens are included in politics (“political participation”), the level of support for the government (“political culture”), and whether people have freedom of expression (“civil liberties”).
Below are the world’s most authoritarian regimes:
21. United Arab Emirates — 2.69/10
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.00
Functioning of government: 3.57
Political participation: 2.22
Political culture: 5.00
Civil liberties: 2.65
20. Azerbaijan — 2.65
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.50
Functioning of government: 2.14
Political participation: 3.33
Political culture: 3.75
Civil liberties: 3.53
19. Afghanistan — 2.55
Electoral process and pluralism: 2.50
Functioning of government: 1.14
Political participation: 2.78
Political culture: 2.50
Civil liberties: 3.82
18. Iran — 2.45
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.00
Functioning of government: 3.21
Political participation: 4.44
Political culture: 3.13
Civil liberties: 1.47
17. Eritrea — 2.37
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.00
Functioning of government: 2.14
Political participation: 1.67
Political culture: 6.88
Civil liberties: 1.18
16. Laos — 2.37
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.83
Functioning of government: 2.86
Political participation: 1.67
Political culture: 5.00
Civil liberties: 1.47
15. Burundi — 2.33
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.00
Functioning of government: 0.43
Political participation: 3.89
Political culture: 5.00
Civil liberties: 2.35
14. Libya — 2.32
Electoral process and pluralism: 1.00
Functioning of government: 0.36
Political participation: 1.67
Political culture: 5.63
Civil liberties: 2.94
13. Sudan — 2.15
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.00
Functioning of government: 1.79
Political participation: 2.78
Political culture: 5.00
Civil liberties: 1.18
12. Yemen — 2.07
Electoral process and pluralism: 0.00
Functioning of government: 0.00
Political participation: 4.44
Political culture: 5.00
Civil liberties: 0.88
11. Guinea-Bissau — 1.98
An abandoned tank from the 1998–1999 civil war in the capital Bissau (Image Wikipedia)
No matter how hard you try and avoid it, vehicles get stuck in the mud. It can even happen to an Abrams tank. Sometimes, as with the case of the Abrams, the vehicle is able to escape the sticky situation on its own, but what happens when the vehicle can’t manage to get free on its own devices?
Thankfully, there’s a way to handle that situation. The United States Army (and the United States Marine Corps) has a vehicle designed to help others get out of the mud and get the supplies it is hauling to the troops. That vehicle is the M984 Wrecker, part of the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck family.
According to OshKosh Defense, the latest version of this tactical tow truck is the M984A4. It has a crew of two, a top speed of 62 miles per hour, and can go 300 miles on a 155-gallon tank of gas. You read that right; it gets really sucky gas mileage — a bit less than two miles per gallon.
But here’s the capability that you get in exchange for guzzling gas: The M984A4’s recovery winch can haul 30 tons, which is enough to get most vehicles out of a muddy situation. Its crane hauls seven tons. It can retrieve objects weighing up to 25,000 pounds. This truck is a tactical, AAA-roadside-assistance machine, and it weighs less than 55,000 pounds, meaning it can be hauled by C-130 Hercules transport planes.
Check out the video below to watch an M984 crew practice getting a vehicle out of the mud at Fort McCoy:
Comprised of more than 100 islands in the East China Sea, Okinawa is one of Japan’s 47 prefectures with a population of 1.44 million people (as of May 2018).
A year-round warm climate and overall tropical landscape, Okinawa is considered a leading resort destination and home to multiple U.S. military installations. Here are five ways to explore the archipelago.
Eat and drink
There is no shortage of places to enjoy good food in Okinawa and nearly every type of international cuisine is represented.
“You have to try Coco’s Curry House, Arashi, Pizza In The Sky, Yoshi Hachi, Sea Garden, Gen, Thai In The Sky and Little Cactus,” KT Genta, a Navy spouse who was previously stationed in Okinawa shared.
Craving a good cup of coffee? Stop into Patisserie Porushe, and be sure to order a croissant to go with it.
The traditional spirit of Okinawa is Awamori, which dates back to the dynastic era, and is made by combining water, test and rice malt with korokoji mold and steamed rice. Get a free tour and tasting at Chuko Distillery.
Historical sites and landmarks
The history of Okinawa is robust — from dynasties to American rule — and the various historical site and landmarks throughout the prefecture tell the region’s story. Be sure to visit:
Okinawa Peace Memorial Park– Located on Mabuni Hill, Peace Memorial Park was a heated battleground during WWII.
Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters – During WWII, Japanese forces constructed an elaborate series of underground tunnels that were used as military headquarters.
Katsuren Castle Ruins – Just a couple in-ruin walls remain at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Tower of Himeyuri – The emotional monument honors the Himeyuri medical corps of female students who perished in WWII.
Ikema Ohashi Bridge– A 4,675 ft. bridge with panoramic views of the ocean, it connects the islands Miyako-jima to Ikema-jima and was formerly the longest bridge in Okinawa.
Beaches and water sports
Trademarked by cerulean shaded waters, Okinawa’s beaches are world-renowned for enjoying a sun-soaked day on the sand or diving in to admire the marine life. Both public and private beaches pepper the coastline, and with hundreds of beaches to choose from across the main and more remote islands, there is a stretch of sand for everyone to enjoy.
Northern Okinawa Island – Uppama Beach, Kanucha Beach, Ie Beach
Central Okinawa Island – Zanpa Beach, Ikei Beach
Southern Okinawa Island – Aharen Beach, Nishibama Beach
Not only does Okinawa offer residents and visitors pristine beaches, the underwater views are attractive for avid divers and snorkelers. Top spots include Manza Dream Hole, Zamami Island and Kabira Bay.
Okinawa is a destination with deep-rooted cultural history, thus a strong appreciation for traditional and performing arts.
Yachimun – The Okinawan name for pottery is Yachimun and can be traced back to more than 800 years.
Bashofu – Made from the fibers of a Japanese banana-like tree call the Basho, Bashofu is a thin textile that is woven and dyed to make into garments.
Sanshin – The literal translation of Sanshin is “three strings” and is a musical instrument that looks a bit like a banjo.
“There is so much to do,” Genta said. “Head to Cocoks for pedicures, hike Hiji Falls, explore Bise Village, which is a peaceful seaside town with sand roads lined with Fukuhi trees, or just drive and get lost. There are so many hidden gems on the island.”
Other must-see spots include Churmai Aquarium, Pineapple Park, Orion Beer Factory, Urashima Dinner Theater, Kokusai Street and Fukushu-en Garden.
This is just a small sampling of ways to explore Okinawa. It’s important to note that one could live their entire life in Japan’s tropical oasis and not see or do everything, so be sure to make the most of your time and have fun!
Life in the military isn’t for everyone. It’s totally understandable if you get started, realize it’s just not the life you’ve envisioned for yourself, and seek a different path. Best of luck with that, dude. Be a productive and helpful member of society in whatever way you feel best.
Yet, for some odd reason, whenever douchebags open their mouths and offer an unnecessary excuse for not serving, they’ll offer the same tired, anti-authoritarian, pseudo-macho, bullsh*t along the lines of, “I couldn’t do it because I’d knock that drill sergeant out if he got in my face.”
Okay, tough guy. 99 percent of the time, you’ll lose that fight — no contest. That other one percent of the time, when you put up a brief fight, you’ll end up wishing a broken nose was the worst thing you had coming.
First and foremost, drill instructors, Marine combat instructors, drill sergeants, military training instructors, and recruit division commanders are highly disciplined and trained to never initiate a physical altercation. They’ll yell, they’ll get in your face, and they’ll generally treat you like the lowest form of scum on this Earth to break you down before building you up into what Uncle Sam needs. Picking a fight with you is pointless when they’ve got thousands of other tools in their repertoire.
And if they start getting physical without being provoked, the consequences are severe. It’s not completely unheard of, but reports of drill sergeants resorting to violence are few and far between — even when considering old-school drill sergeants. Of course they’re going to threaten it — stressing out and terrifying recruits is kinda their shtick— but they can’t even touch your uniform to correct a deficiency without informing you they’re going to do so, let alone take the first swing.
Now. Up until this point in the article, the disclaimer of “starting the fight” has been attached to each and every instance of hypothetical ass-beatings. What happens to the sorry sack of crap who tries to assault a non-commissioned officer in the United States Armed Forces? Well…
Ever wonder why they’re always in PTs?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Pedro Cardenas)
Spoiler alert: It won’t end well.
In order to reach the point where they’re screaming in your face, an instructor has undergone intensive hand-to-hand training — to later teach it to young recruits. In the Army, you can’t teach combatives unless you’ve undergone an intensive one-week course specifically on training a platoon-sized element and another two-week course on training a company-sized element. All of this is in addition to whatever personal CQC training they’ve undertaken.
And then there’s the size disparity. Drill sergeants and drill instructors are, generally, physical monsters. That “make you pass out” smoke session is a warm-up for most instructors. They PT in the morning with the troops, with them again throughout the day to prove “it’s nothing, so quit b*tching,” and then find time to hit the gym afterwards. Technically, a drill sergeant just needs to pass their PT test, but it’s rare to find one that doesn’t get a (or near to a) 300.
And because this will get mentioned in the comments: Hell no. A drill sergeant would never lose their military bearing by recording a brawl between a troublesome recruit and another drill sergeant and uploading it to the internet.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the hyper-macho scumbag lands a good one and they aren’t given an impromptu tracheotomy via knife-hand. Before that clown can clench their other fist, each and every other instructor in the area will pounce. Drill sergeants are loyal to their own, so expect them to join in swinging — even if they clearly have the fight won.
Finally, there’re the repercussions. The fool that initiates a fight is going to jail and is getting swiftly kicked out with a dishonorable discharge — no ifs, ands, or buts. Don’t expect that court-martial to go over well when every instructor there is a credible witness and the other recruits who watched have recently been instilled with military values. No one will back up the scumbag.
Keep very much in mind — these instructors will never lose their military bearing. Dropping that bearing for even a fraction of a second could mean the loss of the campaign hat they worked so hard to earn. There’s no way in hell that one asshat will take that away from them when they know countless ways to deal with them that don’t involve realigning their teeth.
On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. diplomatic facilities in a newly Qaddafi-free Libya were hit by a coordinated assault by an Islamic militant group. The attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and two special operations veterans who responded to the attack as part of a volunteer CIA quick reaction force. The special operations community got their revenge, capturing ringleader Ahmed Abu Khattala in Libya in 2014.
Khattala was accused of being the leader of an extremist militia and directing the Benghazi attacks. Prosecutors alleged Khattala was responsible for the deaths of the four Americans, but could not find any evidence of the extremist leader actually holding a weapon.
He was caught on camera driving fighters to the attack site and his mobile phone records proved he was communicating with the attackers. Among the witnesses testifying against him were the FBI plant who got close to Khattala and helped the FBI arrange his capture by U.S. Army Special Forces.
The attack on the compound that killed Ambassador Stevens was the first that resulted in the death of such a high-profile diplomat since the 1979 killing of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs during a botched kidnapping attempt in 1979. Also killed was State Department Information Officer Sean Patrick Smith, along with former Navy SEALs Glen “Bub” Doherty and Tyrone “Rone” Woods, who both served with valor in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After CIA contractors who responded to an attack on the consulate compound removed Smith’s body and aided survivors (they were unable to find the ambassador), the attacking forces moved on to the CIA’s annex, where the defenders took cover. Doherty and Woods died in defense of the annex.
Though there have been many investigations in the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks and an exact timeline isn’t clear to this day, what is clear is that it was a coordinated assault by members of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, a group formed to fight the government forces of Muammar Qaddafi – and the Abu Khattala was involved.
Khattala was convicted on four charges, including providing material support for terrorism, but was cleared of 14 others including the four deaths of Americans on the ground in Benghazi that night.
The commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy says that Russia will build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for the first time, but the country will not have this modern flattop anytime soon.
“There will be, of course, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier but not in the short-term perspective,” Navy Commander-in-Chief Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov said July 10, 2019, in St. Petersburg, according to the state-run TASS News Agency.
The admiral’s comments reflect earlier reports citing unnamed sources in the Russian shipbuilding industry that suggested development of a new carrier might not begin until well into the next decade.
Russia’s naval forces are not expected to even receive the ship until sometime in the 2030s — assuming they ever receive it at all, shipbuilding sources previously told Russian media.
The new carrier is expected to be a marked improvement over the troubled Admiral Kuznetsov.
Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.
Last fall, the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, was severely damaged when the massive Swedish-built PD-50 dry dock at the 82nd Repair Shipyard in Roslyakovo sank with the aircraft carrier on board. A heavy crane fell on the vessel, punching a large hole in the hull and deck.
Russia’s ability to repair the damage appears to be limited due to the substantial damage to the vital shipyard, and there has even been talk of scrapping the flagship of the Russian navy rather than paying for costly repairs. The carrier offers very little in terms of capability, even with the planned modifications meant to modernize the often disappointing Cold War relic.
The Nevskoye Design Bureau, part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, presented its design for what it called the Project 11430E Lamantin nuclear-powered aircraft carrier this week at the St. Petersburg international maritime defense show, where the Russian admiral made his comments.
The carrier, as designed, would displace about 80,000-90,000 metric tons, making it much larger than the Kuznetsov but smaller than US Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers.
While Russia has dreams of building a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the cash-strapped country is also considering conventional alternatives.
Last month, the Krylov State Scientific Research Center unveiled what it said was “a principally new concept of an aircraft carrier” designed to outshine the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth. The conventional gas turbine-powered carrier would be, according to the developers, four to six times cheaper than a nuclear-powered version the center presented a few years ago.
Russian defense firms and research centers have been pitching aircraft carrier designs for years, but for now, the Russian Navy has only the out-of-action Kuznetsov.
Russia has nuclear-powered submarines, but it has never had a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in its fleet. In the final years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union began work on a nuclear-powered carrier known as the Ulyanovsk, but the fall of the Soviet Union led the Russians to suspend development. The project was scrapped, and the ship’s partial hull was disassembled.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In May 2004, about 20 British troops were on the move 15 miles south of al-Amara, near the major city of Basra in Iraq. They were on the way to assist another unit that was under fire when their convoy was hit by a surprise of its own.
Shia militias averaged five attacks per day in Basra when the U.K. troops arrived. British soldiers tried to arrest Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for supporting the violence and the locals were not happy about it. An unpredictable level of violence broke out. British troops were frequently under assault – an estimated 300 ambushes within three months.
“We were constantly under attack,” Sgt. Brian Wood told the BBC. “If mortars weren’t coming into our base, then we were dragged out into the city to help other units under fire.”
Wood and other troops from the 1st Battallion of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment were on their way to aid Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were attacked by 100 militiamen from al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army when their vehicle struck an IED. The surprise attack actually hit two vehicles carrying 20 troops on a highway south of Amarah. Mortars, rockets, and machine guns peppered the unarmored vehicles.
Rather than drive through the ambush, the vehicles took so much punishment they had to stop on the road. The troops inside dismounted, established a perimeter, and had to call in some help of their own. Ammunition soon ran low.
The decision was made: the British troops fixed bayonets.
They ran across 600 feet of open ground toward the entrenched enemy. Once on top of the Mahdi fighters, the British bayoneted 20 of the militia. Fierce hand-to-hand combat followed for five hours. The Queen’s men suffered only three injuries.
“We were pumped up on adrenaline — proper angry,” Pvt. Anthony Rushforth told The Sun, a London-based newspaper. “It’s only afterwards you think, ‘Jesus, I actually did that.’ “
What started as a surprise attack on a British convoy ended with 28 dead militiamen and three wounded U.K. troops.
Jihadi propaganda at the time told young fighters that Western armies would run from ambushes and never engage in close combat. They were wrong. Irregular, unexpected combat tactics overwhelmed a numerically superior enemy who had the advantage in surprise and firepower.
As a young girl, Angie DiMattia knew softball would be her way out of an impoverished life.
Growing up, she lived with her parents and shared a room with her older sister inside a crammed 500-square-foot mobile home in Phenix City, Alabama.
“I remember stray animals coming into the house from the holes in the floor,” said Angie, now a first lieutenant. “It was rough.”
Her father worked hard delivering mail to make ends meet, she said. But, one day, her mother, who suffered complications from Type 1 diabetes, told her they’d never be able to afford to send her to college.
She saw softball as her golden ticket. It also fed her competitive side that later forged her into a chiseled bodybuilder and United States of America’s Ms. Colorado.
The strong work ethic that blossomed from her humble roots pushed her to keep practicing softball. Yet, she needed extra lessons to be a better pitcher, her favorite position. With no money to pay for them, she decided to work for her coach, who owned a batting cage.
A young Angie DiMattia poses for a photograph before a dance recital.
She picked up balls and swept the batters’ boxes in between customers. And at the end of the day, the coach helped with her form.
“That’s how I figured out how to pitch was through his lessons,” she said. “But I earned it.”
She also earned each of her wins with a used glove she had bought for 25 cents at a flea market. She pitched well with it throughout high school and got a scholarship to a nearby community college.
“That glove, and obviously my work, earned a college scholarship,” she said.
Angie shelved her lucky glove, but still used her industrious attitude in other competitions.
Now 34, Angie has raced in several marathons, Iron Man triathlons and often advises other soldiers on how to achieve their fitness goals.
Her motivation to care deeply for her own body partly stems from witnessing her mother suffer with hers.
“I just watched what life was like when your body fails you,” she said.
With her mother’s dietary restrictions, sugar was banned in the house and Angie learned how to eat healthy at a young age. She also saw sports and fitness as an outlet that taught her leadership, teamwork and camaraderie — skills that continue to resonate in her Army career.
“My life has definitely been geared toward taking care of my body, which takes care of my mind that takes care of everything else in my life,” she said.
Her efforts recently bore fruit.
Earlier this year, she competed in the Arnold Sports Festival, a massive competition with about 22,000 athletes. Out of nearly 20 contestants in her category, she finished second place.
First Lt. Angie DiMattia is seen volunteering for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia.
The road to get there was not easy. On top of her routine physical training for the Army, she added two more hours of cardio in addition to a weightlifting session every single day for numerous weeks.
“I’d be so tired, I’d plop down,” she said of when each day ended.
While preparing for the competition, the endurance runner-bodybuilder also tried something out of the ordinary — a beauty pageant.
“I’m the complete opposite of a pageant girl,” she said, laughing.
While at a volunteering event, she met the state director of the USOA Miss Colorado pageant who convinced her to sign up. The prize that finally persuaded her — if she won, she could use her title to highlight issues she cares about on a wider platform.
“The pageant was never my goal,” she said. “To serve military families and Gold Star families, that was my goal.”
To her surprise, Angie became the first active-duty soldier to ever win the “Ms.” category for single women over 29 years old.
After being crowned, she has been able to collect more donations for Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Carson, Colorado, where she once served as a family readiness leader with 4th Infantry Division.
To her, volunteerism is her life purpose. She sees competitions as “selfish goals” because it saps a lot of her time from selfless endeavors.
“I don’t do a lot of community service because I’m really busy,” she said of when preparing for contests. “But it’s good sometimes to balance life. You have to grow individually before you’re able to help others.”
That passion was ignited a decade ago when she began to serve as a fallen hero coordinator for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia. Proceeds from the race benefit the National Infantry Museum and other military-related nonprofit groups.
“It isn’t just me, it’s this team of people who all have the same mission,” she said. “We all love to run and we all love to serve our community and our military.”
Cecil Cheves, who is the race director, said that Angie has been an integral part of the annual event.
Then-2nd Lt. Angie DiMattia conducts a dumbbell workout Feb. 23, 2018, at Fort Carson, Colorado.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)
She’ll research and produce a list of fallen soldiers from the local area and place their names on paper bibs that runners can run with in memory of them.
She also has a “vivacious personality” that she reveals as an announcer when runners cross the finish line.
“She gives off energy that draws others to her,” Cheves said.
But she is not self-focused, he noted, and is very interested in people.
“She’s the kind of person every organization, like the Army, would want,” he said. “She’s very much a team player.”
Angie also strives to use her current role as Ms. Colorado to raise awareness of fallen service members during other events, such as motorcycle rides that honor veterans.
Similar to the marathon, she hands out bibs with the names of deceased troops for riders to wear. If someone donates money for a bib, she gives it directly to Survivor Outreach Services.
“I’ve never taken a dime from it, not even to pay for my gas, not to pay for the printing materials, anything,” she said. “I pay it out of my own pocket.”
In 2012, Angie first joined the Georgia National Guard as an enlisted truck driver so she could be assigned to a unit that was close to her ailing mother.
But soon after she completed training, her mother passed away.
“I was only here so I could be next to her,” she said.
She decided to enroll in the ROTC program at Columbus State University and earned a bachelor’s degree. She became an intelligence officer, then a strategic communicator and is now preparing to switch careers to be a space operations officer in Colorado.
As a child, she was obsessed with space. She painted her ceiling black and mapped out the night sky with stars and planets that glowed in the dark.
“It isn’t something you hear about very often,” she said of the Army’s space career field. “When I realized that this was an opportunity, I was so excited.”
Being able to rise above the “rough patches” she was dealt with as a child has also made her a better leader, she said.
The strong work ethic that blossomed from her humble roots in Alabama has pushed 1st Lt. Angie DiMattia to accomplish many goals in life.
To her, she’s not embarrassed of the way she grew up. It actually shaped her desire to assist others facing their own challenges.
“I can influence beyond the chain of command with my community service and charity work,” she said. “But then I can relate to my junior soldiers through me being real. I know what it’s like to struggle a bit in life.”
When she gives advice to her soldiers, she says to seek mentorship from someone different from them and that way they can learn more.
She also likes to recite a quote on achieving goals that a Buddhist teacher once told her: “You just need to be yourself, but be all of you.”
But, perhaps, the greatest lesson she has learned is time management. If things in one’s life do not bring added value, she said, they need to be eliminated.
“My time is more important than my money,” she said. “You can invest money and get a return, but you cannot invest time and get time back.”
She suggests soldiers need to first define who they are and where they want to go before they try to conquer a goal in life.
“Let’s start mapping out these stepping stones,” she said, “that are going to be crucial to getting you to that next goal.”
I’ve already made up my mind that if the Space Force starts opening up its doors to include combat arms within my lifetime, I’d be at the recruiting office in a heartbeat. It doesn’t matter that knowing how I’d react, I’d probably be a random Red Shirt who’d have his back turned at the worst possible moment and say something ironic like “the coast is clear!” before getting eaten by something.
Then Senator Ted Cruz in a Senate hearing advocating the Space Force planted the ultimate idea in my head… Space Pirates. Sure, the memes were taken slightly out of context because he was referring to rogue nations attacking satellites and not the swashbuckling buccaneers we’re thinking of. But is it a bad thing that kinda makes me want to join the Space Force even more?
It’ll take far too long for us to make first contact with aliens yet it’ll only take a few decades for space travel to be affordable enough for us to get down on some Firefly or Babylon 5-type action. We’re counting on you, Elon Musk. Make this dream come true!
While we wait for the cold dark reality that the Space Force will probably be far less exciting in our lifetimes than pop culture expects, here are some memes.
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via Team Non-Rec)
“I don’t know, Hanz, he said something about my mother being a hamster and my father smelling like elderberries.”
Fun fact: The insult from Monty Python was actually implying that King Arthur’s mom reproduced fast like a small rodent and his father was a drunk who could only afford the lowest quality wine. The more you know!
Popular culture has taught us that tough guys are born tough, winners win, and badasses are, well, badass. Maybe I’m not all that tough, but I’ve spent most of my life competing in the sorts of sports that should come with frequent flier cards for the ER, and it’s been my experience that dominating the competition doesn’t tend to come with very many valuable lessons.
In fact, if you really want to know how to winfights, the best thing you can do while training is lose some.
After doing well in events like pugil sticks and being considered “tough” by my friends, I mistakenly started to believe that I was a tough guy. It didn’t take long to learn otherwise.
(Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jose Villalobosrocha)
While I already had a long and illustrious history of being a mouthy punk before I joined the Marines, it wasn’t until my second year in uniform that I formally entered into the world of fighting. I had earned my brown belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and had some scholastic wrestling behind me that had helped me dominate the competition in my unit and my circle of friends. As far as I was concerned, I was one tough bastard… that is until I walked into the training facility for Fight Club 29, nestled in a disused hangar in the deserts of Twentynine Palms, California.
As I walked into that bustling training environment that Coach Mark Geletko, a retired Marine Sergeant Major, cultivates through sheer force of enthusiastic will, I immediately made the most egregious of rookie mistakes: I was intimidated by the skill and athleticism in the room, so I squared my jaw and put on my best “tough guy” face. I was intent on proving to the team that I belonged there by showing off how badass I was… and silently, I promised myself I wouldn’t tap out a single time that day.
The thing is, I wasn’t badass. I was a tough guy from the block in the company of men that had dedicated themselves to the craft of fighting. Everyone in the room had at least one amateur fight under their belts, a few even had professional ones, and I fancied myself their peer from behind a handful of bar brawl stories and a knack for high school wrestling.
I was bigger, stronger, and fitter than some fighters I squared off against in those early days, but if your plan is to overwhelm experience with muscle, you’re in for a bad day.
As foolish as it seems in hindsight, I see that same look on the faces of new fighters all the time. Some are so lost behind their tough-guy facades that they can’t break through, and ultimately, they have to leave the sport behind. Others, like me, have to learn that “tough” doesn’t always mean winning, and guys that always “have to” win rarely have the skills they need to get out of a jam when they’re in one.
In the months leading up to my first fight, I began training with our team’s premier fighters in the weight class above and below my own (at 185 pounds). That meant standing and swinging with the bruising power of guys that fought heavyweight at 205+, before hopping onto the mats with the lightning quickness of a 175-pound Jiu Jitsu stud that knew more about submissions than I do about… anything.
And boy did I lose. Some days it seemed like all I did was lose. At one point during my first week, one of our best heavyweight strikers named Nate landed a powerful (and quite high) pump kick to my midsection, raising alarm bells from my small intestines all the way to my brain, all blaring in unison that if I didn’t get my ass to a bathroom, I was going to have an awfully embarrassing mess in my pants. After the emergency had passed, I half-limped my way back out of the “porta-john” outside our hangar and stumbled back into the ring, ready to get beat again.
The only really effective way to learn not to panic in a choke is to spend time getting choked. You’ve got to learn to fight back from a position of disadvantage to be a capable fighter.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Samuel Guerra)
Losing teaches you a lot of things about yourself and about the craft of fighting. Do it often enough, and you begin to understand the difference between a sloppy choke that makes it hard to breathe and a good one that makes it impossible. You start to recognize the differences between punches that could put you to bed, and the ones you’re willing to eat while you set up your next move. You start to accept the hurt to avoid an injury and to be comfortable in a submission that used to scare you. Most importantly, you stop being afraid of getting knocked out, choked out, or losing in front of your peers, and in that freedom, you’re finally able to find out what you’re really made of.
I went undefeated in my short semi-professional fighting career, though I never won by knock-out or submission. I’m still not the toughest guy around, but in the years since I transitioned from competitive fighting to simply training, I’ve learned to let go of my fear of losing and embrace the satisfying hurt of learning new lessons from skilled peers.
I may not be as quick as I was when I first got into the fighting game, but unlike that young buck, I’m not afraid to hurt, to grind, or to lose if I have to. And if you ask me, that makes me a much more dangerous old man.
For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.
Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.
Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.
The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.
According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.
“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”
The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.
Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.
“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”
A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.
One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.
TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”
Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.
Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.
In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.
Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.
Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.
In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.
One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.
In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.
But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.
The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.
Senator John McCain.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.
The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.
The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.
Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.
Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.
Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.
Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.
John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.
“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.
Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.
(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)
After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.
Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.
The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.
The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.
The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.
TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.
The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.
“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”
The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.
“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”
Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.
“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”
The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.
But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.
TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.
In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”
Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”
McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”
But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.
McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”
McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.
“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”
The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.
The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.
That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.
“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”
Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.
This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.
This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.