It’s probably not a surprise that “Bloody Mary” is a real person, also known as Mary I of England, who earned her moniker for violently attempting to restore Catholicism to England. In her five-year reign, she had almost 300 religious dissenters burned alive for their beliefs. But that’s not how the cocktail earned its name. The bloody part of the drink actually comes from the Russian Revolution.
Sorry folks, there’s just not much blood when burning someone at the stake.
Simpsons did it.
After the Bolsheviks – Marxist-Leninists who would soon form the Soviet Union – toppled the Russian Czar in 1917, not everyone was particularly thrilled. In fact, many people were so not thrilled that they were forced to flee in fear of taking a bullet for the Soviet cause. One of those refugees was Vladimir Smirnov, who had a name so Russian, you might think I’m making it up. I’m not. The young Smirnov had his entire family fortune taken away by the Red Army.
If that name sounds familiar to you, you’re onto something – Smirnov moved to the Ottoman Empire, Poland, and France where he began making vodka under the more Western-friendly spelling of his name, Smirnoff.
You definitely know that name.
The Bloody Mary as we know it today has its roots in Paris, where Russians escaping the bloody revolution in Moscow made their way around 1920. With them came vodka and a thirst for it, so a bartender at a New York-style bar called Henry’s began to toy around with this newfangled liquor. Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot didn’t think it tasted like much at all. Another fresh new flavor the bartender discovered was America’s newfound love for canned tomato juice. Petiot wasn’t the first to put the two together, not by far. But he did mix the spices into the drink for the first time. And the “Bucket of Blood” was born.
Americans loved it and christened it the perfect hangover cure. When Prohibition ended in the United States, Petiot moved to New York and began slinging drinks at the St. Régis Hotel’s King Cole Bar. But then it was called the “Red Snapper,” and its vodka was steeped in Black Peppercorns for six weeks before serving.
After all the drinking they did after Prohibition, they were probably hungover for a year.
But the rest of the town called it a Bloody Mary. When they started isn’t exactly clear. When it gained its celery garnish isn’t either. If they had thought of putting bacon in it, they probably would have. These days, there are many variations on the classic cocktail, but when you want something done right, you need to go to an expert. If you need plumbing work, call a plumber. The power goes out, call an electrician. If you need advice on how to make a drink, ask Papa Hemingway:
“To make a pitcher of Blood Marys (any similar amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. (This to prevent too rapid melting and watering of our product.) Mix a pint of good Russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice. Add a tablespoon full of Worchester Sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but can use AI or any good beef-steak sauce. Stir. (with two rs) Then add a jigger of fresh squeezed lime juice. Stirr. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.”
When you think of six-shooters, the classic .38 Smith & Wesson Special revolver comes to mind, as made famous by classic cop shows, like Adam-12, Dragnet, and CHiPs, and countless Westerns. But there was one six-shooter that packed a lot more punch than the cowboys’ gun of choice.
The six-shooter in question was the M50 Ontos — and it certainly wasn’t a revolver. This tracked vehicle packed six M40 106mm recoilless rifles. It was intended to serve a tank-killer for use by light infantry and airborne units when it entered service in 1955, facing off against the then-new Soviet T-55 main battle tank. Like a revolver, it was meant to quickly end a fight.
Six M40 106mm recoilless rifles gave the Ontos one heck of a first salvo,
The Ontos had a crew of three — a driver, gunner, and commander. It held a total of 24 rounds, 6 loaded and 18 in reserve, for its massive guns. The vehicle ended up being used primarily by the Marine Corps — not the Army airborne units for which it was originally intended.
This system proved very potent in Vietnam. Its six recoilless rifles could do a lot to knock infantry back — and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong found that out the hard way. The Ontos also carried a pair of .50-caliber spotting rifles to improve accuracy and had a World War II-era .30-caliber M1919 machine gun attached (the same used by grunts in WWII).
A Marine escapes the cramped confines of his M50 Ontos to catch a break.
The Ontos was retired in 1970, largely because while it looked mean as hell and packed a punch, it had a few severe drawbacks. One of the biggest being that the crew had to exit the vehicle in order to reload the big guns — which sounds like a quick way to shorten your life expectancy. Then again, if you’ve tried to reload a revolver, you know that process can take a while. In that sense, the Ontos was very much a true six-shooter.
Learn more about this unique powerhouse in the video below.
On September 4, 2018, the Secretary of the Army signed a memo that shifted the Earth under the U.S. Army by declaring that the Safety Brief, a longtime weekend ritual of every formation across the primary land forces of these United States, was no longer required.
For soldiers everywhere, the news was met with a sudden intake of breath and widening of the eyes.
And then, after careful reading, an eye roll and long sigh — because the memo only removed the requirement for the safety brief, it didn’t prohibit them. So, yeah, most soldiers are probably still getting safety briefs every weekend. But, through a network of squirrels, pigeons, and the occasional honey badger, WATM has learned about these 7 events that totally happened since the safety briefs were dropped at some units:
An investigating officer enters one of the stolen Army wreckers.
(U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)
An unknown Fort Bliss corporal stole everything he could get his hands on, including the flagpole
An unidentified corporal assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas, went on a wild crime spree, stealing everything from a humvee to the keys to the dropzone to the physical flagpole from which the base colors fly. That last theft was only made possible by the multiple wreckers which he stole beforehand. Worse, the corporal ate the dropzone keys, and has not yet passed them.
When reached for comment, a Fort Bliss spokesman would only mutter, “We didn’t even think the dropzone could be locked. How the hell are we going to train there, now?”
No, it doesn’t make any sense that a sergeant first class led the fireteam, but this article is clearly satire — of course there are no real photos of the fireteam entering Canada.
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Haley D. Phillips)
A fireteam from Drum invaded Canada under the incorrect assumption that “it’s basically polite Russia”
Meanwhile, at Fort Drum, a single fireteam, working under the assumption that all countries under a certain temperature are basically Russia, invaded Canada with no warning, capturing two banks, a law office, and the Chamber of Commerce of a large town before the Canadian Army arrived and eventually captured them despite heavy losses.
The Fort Drum commanders quickly apologized, but were surprised when the Canadians simply offered to fly the fireteam to Moscow just to “see what the little hellions can do there.”
A rapid response team made up entirely of officer candidates were the first on scene after Pvt. Skippy’s actions were reported. They apparently took the threat of his captured “Charizard” seriously, while local NCOs shook their heads in disbelief.
(U.S. Army National Guard Maj. Matt Baldwin)
Pvt. Skippy of Joint Base Lewis-McChord went on a rampage
A common refrain of the weekend safety brief is, “Don’t beat your fish, don’t beat your dog, don’t beat your neighbor’s dog. You can beat something else of your own, but not your neighbor’s — unless it’s consensual.”
Apparently, that was the only thing stopping Pvt. Skippy, because he attacked every animal he could find in the vicinity of the barracks, according to MP reports. When apprehended, he explained that he was “playing Pokemon Go when the damnedest Pikachu showed up. It was all brown, smaller, and eating acorns,” and he asked the MPs why they hated video games.
His toxicology report has not yet come back.
By all reports, the girls, girls, girls survived, but will have to find new work in the harsh light of day.
(Rick Hall, CC-BY 2.0)
Three bars and two stripclubs have been declared total losses in the Fort Hood area
Base officials aren’t talking about what happened at a series of business right outside of South Fort Hood last weekend. At most, you can hear them mutter things about “tornadoes” and “wildfires” under their breath as they rapidly walk away.
But, insurance companies on the hook for the damages have pointed out that every damaged business caters to soldiers, was operating normally on Friday, and was expecting a slow weekend since the weather was normal and it wasn’t a paycheck weekend.
Instead, five businesses have been completely demolished and are currently littered with debris, broken teeth, and a few stray dog tags.
It only took one report of less-than-horrible meals at the facilities for the senior brass to know something was up.
(U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Zach Tomesh)
Multiple detention specialists at Guantanamo Bay are facing charges of renting out cells on Airbnb
With the low numbers of prisoners currently housed at Gunatanamo, some specialists there apparently decided that a rules-free weekend was the perfect time to transition empty cells into small apartments, renting out the rooms to tourists on Airbnb.
The scheme was discovered quickly as guests kept wandering into the facility’s kitchens to steal ingredients and oven space for their personal meals. When soldiers on base started enjoying the food that came out, the brass knew something was up.
Fort Bragg Paratroopers are tested for the new STDs. With an average of less than two infections per soldier, the situation is much closer to normal than epidemic specialists had dared to hope for.
(Department of Defense Brenda Gutierrez)
Every D.A. civilian in North Carolina has contracted an STD
In a surprise twist on Fort Bragg, every Department of the Army civilian has contracted at least one STD, despite the fact that no one was trying to sleep with them.
Experts from the Center for Disease Control are working off the theory that the soldiers went so crazy when they weren’t reminded to not sleep with strippers, spouses, and local women, that they created a cross between multiple major STDs and an upper respiratory infection that was prominent in Fayetteville, N.C. at the time, allowing the previously sexually transmitted diseases to become airborne.
Either that, or the paratroopers left so much fluid on all of the base’s surfaces that now it’s just dangerous to be on or near the installation.
A new memo has been drafted making the safety brief mandatory once again
Amidst all the chaos, the Department of the Army is quietly preparing to reinstate the mandatory brief, hopefully while they still have an army to administrate. While retention rates have suddenly jumped, hospital admissions and police bookings have more than wiped out the retention advantage.
Your living room makes a convenient gym. There are no membership fees. There’s not a talkative sweaty dude or ripped body-shaming wannabe trainer. There’s just you, maybe the kids, maybe some clutter, and just enough floor space. But is a workout at home one that can get you in ripped-and-ready-for-the-world-without-a-shirt shape? Without question.
Home workouts become real sweat sessions when you turn off the television, crank some motivational tunes, and give it your all. Here are 5 hardcore workouts that require the willpower and fortitude — but no equipment and minimal space.
Workout #1: Simply Squats and Pushups
This workout has two moves, and seems too simple to be sweat-inducing. To that we say, go ahead, give it a whirl.
Here it is: Do 21 squats, then immediately do 21 pushups. Rest and repeat with 15 reps each, then 9 reps each. You get two minutes of rest in between sets. That’s it.
There’s one caveat for this workout: Your pushup and squat form need to be perfect throughout. That means on the squat you stand with feet shoulder-width apart, bend knees and sink down and back like you are about to sit in a chair, aiming to get quads parallel to the floor. In the pushup, you keep a perfect plank in-between the pushups and bring your chest smoothly to the floor and back up without breaking the plank. Sound easy? Sure. Good luck.
Workout #2: 4 Moves, All Out
This workout hits it all in an easy-to-remember 4-move sequence where you give each move your all, rest one minute, move on to the next, and then, you’re finished. Make that a laying-on-the-floor-in-fetal-position type of done.
Push-Ups: Maintaining form, do as many as you can, as fast as you can, for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Go again for 20 seconds. Complete 8 sets of 20 seconds hard/10 seconds rest.
Twist Jumps: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and drop into a squat, twisting your torso and arms far to the right as you do. Release arms and torso back to the left as you jump in the air and do a half-rotation to the left. Drop, twist right, jump left again. Do 20 seconds of twist jumping right to left. Rest for 10. Do the next 20 seconds of twist jumps in the opposite direction. Switch sides two more times for 8 sets total.
Reverse Pulses: Start sitting on the floor, legs in front of you, knees bent, feet tucked under a heavy chair for support. Pull your gut toward your belly button and lean back about 45 degrees. Stretching your arms in front of you, begin to pulse up and down as fast as you can, aiming to lean a little further back with each pulse while keeping your abs contracted. Go for 20 seconds. Rest for 10. Do 8 sets.
Mountain Climbers: Get down on the floor in an extended push-ups position, engaging your core and holding your upper body still while you raise one knee to your chest. Then jump it back in place while raising the other. Alternate legs and “jog” your knees to your chest as fast as possible for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Do 8 sets.
Workout #3: Climbing Burpees
Here’s another simple two-move workout that will absolutely crush you. The idea here is to do as many of this combination as you can in five minutes, rest one minute, and repeat.
Here it is: Start in a pushups position. Jump your feet towards your hands, then jump your whole body vertically in the air and back into a crouch. Jump feet back into an extended pushups position.
From this position, hike one knee high toward your chest, keeping your hands planted on the floor. Jump it back to the start position, hiking your other knee up at the same time.
Continue this alternating pattern of moves for five minutes. Rest one. And repeat. Try to do this three times. Then four. When you can do this five times, well, let’s just say you’re in pretty damn good shape.
Workout #4 The Full Living Room Routine
This 11-part routine is for those days when you’ve got some time to spare and want to mix it up. This is all based on time, so maybe have a smart speaker handy. By the time you’re nearing the end, you might not be able to catch your breath enough to tell Alexa set the timer. That’s a sign it’s working.
Lunges: Warm your body up with lunges — front knee over toe, back leg slightly bent without letting your knee touch the floor, then push back up to standing and repeat with opposite leg. Two minutes total.
Squats: Stand, bend knees, drop seat, resume standing. Repeat. Two minutes.
Jumping Jacks: Get that heart rate up. Two minutes.
Triceps Dips: Find a chair or couch and sit, placing your hands on the edge of the seat. Slide your butt forward until it is off the seat, your weight supported by your arms. Bend and straighten elbows. Three sets of 10 dips.
Wall Sit: Place your back flat against a wall, feet about two feet in front of you. Bend your knees until your quads are parallel to the floor. Stay there for 90 seconds.
Side Plank: Lie on your side, propped up on one elbow and push through your feet to raise your hips off the floor, creating a straight line from your shoulder to your feet. Hold 60 seconds. Switch sides.
Mountain Climbers: Get down in the extended push-ups position, bend one knee to your chest, then straighten it back as you hike the other one up. Continue “jogging” in this fashion for one minute. Rest a minute; do one minute more.
Sit-Ups: Quick on the up, then slowly roll back down. Give us what you’ve got for two minutes.
Calf Raises: Sit in the chair, feet flat on the floor. Lean forward and press down on your quads with your hands. As you do this, rise up onto the balls of your feet. Lower back down. One minute.
Side Push-Ups: Straighten one arm out to the side so that your hand just touches the wall. Keeping your body in a straight line, bend your elbow and lean into the wall. Push away and back to standing. Do one minute on this side, then find the wall on the opposite side of the room and repeat on the other.
Modified Burpees: Start in an extended push-ups position, do a super-fast push-up, then jump your feet towards your hands and stand up tall, feet shoulder-width apart. From here, let your arms drift in front of you while you slowly bend into an easy squat. Hold five counts. Lean forward, drop your hands to the floor, and jump your legs back into a push-ups-ready position. Go again. Two minutes.
Workout #5: The Murph
This classic Crossfit workout pushes the boundaries of living room workout (not to mention fitness sanity). It’s more of a challenge than a workout. It forces you to run outside. It requires a pull-up bar. But if you’re looking to take your workouts to the next level — to get serious about your fitness in a way you haven’t done since high school football — this is your way in.
We suggest trying this out at home and timing yourself for the first few times (spaced out by a month or three; yeah, you’ll need that much recovery) and then working your way up to a public display of the challenge, heading to a CrossFit gym on Memorial Day weekend for The Murph Challenge, where a bunch of loons go head-to-head with this challenge in honor of LT. Michael P. Murphy, the workout’s worthy namesake.
Run 1 mile
Do 100 Pull-Ups
Do 200 Push-Ups
Do 300 Air Squats
Run 1 mile
Note: You don’t have to do this in order. In fact, we suggest that, especially for beginners, you divide it into blocks of, say: 5 pullups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats. Be sure to keep a tally on a chalkboard or paper. You will lose track.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
As the United States approaches the 20-year mark of the war on terror, the country continues to lose her service members. But we aren’t losing the vast majority of them to combat with the enemy. Instead, accidents and suicide are inflicting most of the devastation.
In 2019, a Congressional report compiled the data from 2006 through 2019. The results determined that 12,116 of the 16,652 killed in service during that period didn’t die from combat related causes. That’s 73% who weren’t lost due to fighting an enemy during war but instead – most died accidentally or by suicide.
Since 2015, the non-combat related deaths have been outpacing those lost while fighting. According to the Defense Reauthorization Act of 2019, in 2017, almost four times the amount of combat related deaths were attributed to training accidents. The number has continued to grow, causing alarm within the military and government.
These accidental deaths are often attributed to training and safety insufficiencies.
The increasing numbers led many members of the Armed Services Committee to state that America is “at a crisis point.” The committee’s 2019 proposal for funding addressed rebuilding the military so that its members can safely meet the needs of present and future threats to the country. That same proposal called for more training, equipment repair and increased readiness on land, at sea and in the air.
But some of the battles they will face are within their own minds.
Since 2004, the suicide rates for the military have increased substantially. Tragically, 23.2% of all service member deaths from 2006 to 2019 were labeled by the Department of Defense as “self-inflicted.” In 2019, the Air Force’s numbers were trending so high that their Chief of Staff called for a resiliency and suicide prevention stand down, which was unprecedented.
A 2019 historical study within the Army painted a picture for the increased numbers. The data within the study demonstrated that there was a decrease in suicides for the Army during the active combat of the U.S. Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. But beginning with the Vietnam War, the numbers changed and continued to climb. By 2012, the rates of suicide within the military surpassed the rates of suicide within the civilian world.
Accidental deaths and increasing suicide rates highlight the increased danger that America’s troops encounter a long way from the battlefield. Ensuring that those who raise their right hand to defend this country have effective and safe training environments with working equipment is vital. Their mental health support should also be continual and ongoing, with the stigma of seeking help eradicated from the top down. We owe them all of this – and so much more.
The AH-64 Apache has become a legendary helicopter — proving to be more than a capable replacement for the AH-1 Cobras in United States Army service, but this gunship almost didn’t see the light of day.
Back in the late 1960s, the Cobra was seen as just a stopgap. The Army ran a competition for an Advanced Aerial Fire Support System and, ultimately, selected Lockheed’s entry, designating it the AH-56 Cheyenne and ordering ten prototypes.
The Cheyenne was not a conventional helicopter. It had a top rotor and a tail rotor, but it also added a pusher propeller. This gave it a top speed of 245 miles per hour, according to MilitaryFactory.com. By comparison, the AH-64 has a top speed of just under 189 miles per hour. The Cheyenne had a single 30mm cannon and could carry BGM-71 TOW missiles, 2.75-inch rockets, and external fuel tanks.
So, why didn’t the Cheyenne become a staple? First, a fatal crash and numerous delays marred the project. Additionally, the Army’s Cheyenne was seen as a violation of the Key West Agreement, causing further friction. Plans to buy 600 Cheyennes were quickly scaled down to 375 as costs climbed.
Ultimately, the Army scrapped the Cheyenne when the Air Force began the A-X project, which eventually lead to fielding the A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support plane. The Cheyenne was officially cancelled on August 9th, 1972. Eight days later, the Army began the Advanced Attack Helicopter program, which eventually produced the AH-64 Apache.
The Cheyenne hasn’t failed entirely, though. Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider prototype looks like a more advanced version of the Cheyenne. In a real sense, the Cheyenne was almost five decades ahead of its time.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of numbered units throughout the military, many with storied histories and with extensive combat roles since the United States military began operating on the world stage in the early 20th Century. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment can trace its lineage all the way back to the American Revolution. The 1st Infantry Division can claim to be the longest continuously serving division in the U.S. military. Even the U.S. Navy has the famed USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned sailing ship in the fleet. However, no unit has been deployed to every major conflict of the last one hundred years except for one — the 5th Marine Regiment.
The 5th Marine Regiment’s story begins on June 8, 1917, when it was activated in Philadelphia as part of the United States’ buildup for World War I. The Regiment was assigned to the 4th Marine Brigade, which became a part of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division. The 5th would establish itself in Marine Corps lore for its actions at the Battle of Belleau Wood in the spring of 1918. They would also fight at places such as Aisne and St. Mihiel, as well as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
During the regiment’s service in France, it earned its nickname, “the Fighting Fifth,” and was awarded the French Fourragère for receiving three Croix de Guerre citations, a decoration members of the 5th Marines still wear today. The unit also had five folks (3 USMC, 2 USN) receive the Medal of Honor.
The next major action for the Fighting Fifth was battling their way across the Pacific in World War II. The 5th landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942 and endured four months of grueling combat on there before being relieved with the rest of the division on December 9, 1942. For their efforts during Guadalcanal, the 5th Marines and the entire 1st Marine Division received their first Presidential Unit Citation.
After a rest and refit in Australia, the 5th Marines returned to combat in the late stages of Operation Cartwheel in late December 1943. They landed at Cape Gloucester, New Britain and would fight there until February 1944 when they were relieved by the 40th Infantry Division. The Marines had another period of rest and refit before encountering their greatest challenges of the war, at Peleliu and Okinawa.
The 5th Marines entered combat on Peleliu on September 15, 1944. Unbeknownst to them, the Japanese changed their tactics from attempting to stop landings at the beach to fortifying the entire island and creating a defense in depth. The lack of this knowledge would cost the Marines dearly. After the seizure of the airfield, the rest of the division set about clearing the remainder of the island.
By late October, the 5th Marines were the only regiment still combat effective and their commander, Col. Harold Harris, turned to siege tactics to remove the Japanese, telling his officers “be lavish with ordnance and stingy with men’s lives.” The Marines handed over operations of the island to the 81st Infantry Division and moved on to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa.
The 5th Marines final action of the World War II was at Okinawa, where they landed along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division and 6th Marine Division on April 1, 1945. They were able to quickly clear the northern part of the island but Japanese resistance to the south would require extraordinary effort to reduce. The fight on Okinawa made places like Sugar Loaf Hill and Shuri Castle famous.In all of World War II four Marines from the 5th were awarded the Medal of Honor. Following the fall of Okinawa and the Japanese surrender, the 5th was sent to China for occupation duty.
War soon found the 5th Marines again when they were deployed as part of the Provisional Marine Brigade to the Pusan Perimeter in South Korea to shore up defenses against the invading North Koreans. The Fighting Fifth then rejoined their World War II counterparts, the 1st and 7th Marines, in reforming the 1st Marine Division to take part in the landings at Inchon and the liberation of Seoul.
That winter the 5th Marines fought for their lives at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir. When the situation looked bleak and the Marines were falling back Gen. Oliver Smith told his command, “Retreat, Hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction!”
After their withdrawal from North Korea, the 5th Marines remained in the war and would hold off the Chinese attempts to break the Main Line of Resistance until the armistice in July 1953. The heroic efforts of the 5th Marines garnered ten more Medals of Honor and another Presidential Unit Citation. The regiment left Korea in 1955.
Peacetime would not last long for the 5th as just over a decade after leaving Korea they were deployed as part of the troop buildup in Vietnam in May 1966. The 5th Marines and the rest of the 1st Marine Division would spend six years battling the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong. Their fighting spirit would make their name known once again, this time at places like Huế during the Tet Offensive. During the Vietnam War, seven members of the regiment received the Medal of Honor before returning to Camp Pendleton in 1971.
The 5th Marines returned to combat once again against the forces of Saddam Hussein in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm. 1st Battalion served as part of Task Force Ripper, while the 2nd and 3rd Battalions joined later and participated in the Liberation of Kuwait. The 5th Marines returned to the Middle East in 2003 as part of the Invasion of Iraq where they spearheaded the Marine Corps efforts. After defeating Iraqi forces, the 5th Marines remained in Iraq until October 2003, conducting security and stability operations. They would return to Iraq two more times, each time completing a 13-month deployment. Beginning in 2009 separate battalions of the 5th Marines began deployments to Afghanistan until the deployment of Regimental Combat Team 5 in 2011. 2nd Battalion was the last to deploy serving with RCT 6 in 2012.
In the nearly 100 years since the 5th Marine Regiment was first formed, 24 Marines from the regiment have received the Medal of Honor, second only to the 7th Marines 36 recipients. The 5th Marines have also been a part of the 1st Marine Division when it received all nine of its Presidential Unit Citations, as well as earning two of its own during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. According to the Marine Corps website, the 5th Marines are the most decorated regiment in the Corps.
Joining the military is a great opportunity for many young adults. There are countless benefits for those serve, ranging from financial security, means for obtaining a higher education, developing skills desired by future employers, and, most importantly, a way for someone to participate in something bigger than themselves.
If you want to sign your name on the dotted line in hopes of making a better life for yourself — you’re making an excellent decision.
If your sole purpose in enlisting is to collect fat paychecks… just know that literally everyone under the rank of general is still waiting for get-that-check-engine-light-looked-at kind of money. That being said, enlisting for cash is just scratching the surface of dumb, preconceived notions that troops come in with.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t meant to stop anyone from joining the military — after all, Uncle Sam needs that butt in OD Green. Just know that if you’re dead set on some of the following, it’s going to be painfully hilarious to everyone around you when the truth sets in.
The military also provides enough options to help you float until pay day, if you’d like.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Victor Mincy)
The pay is great
As mentioned above, troops don’t get paid all that well — especially when first entering the service. It’s been long joked within the military that you don’t actually break minimum wage until you reach E-3 (which usually takes a year without waiver) when you factor in work call at 0500 for PT and close out formation at 1700 — a 12-hour work day.
This number obviously doesn’t include overtime pay, 24-hour duties, weekend and holiday pay, or the fact that being in the military is a 24/7 job. If you do look at it like a 24-hour job, you’re looking more towards E-7 (at over 8 years time in service) or O-3 just to break minimum wage.
On the bright side, you’ll get two weeks of paid vacation if you use your leave days correctly!
To be honest, unless you become a drill instructor/drill sergeant, you’re not going to do much yelling for the sake of yelling.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bryan Nygaard)
You’ll get to boss others around
If you thought that joining the military was the pathway to position where you can just yell at people and order them around, you’re absolutely wrong and would be a craptastic leader.
The only way for you to actually “yell at and boss people around” without getting some wall-to-wall counselling from your peers is to be in a position over someone — which won’t be simply handed to you. Even then, no one will respect you — your superiors, peers, and subordinates alike — if you don’t offer them that same respect.
Everyone wants to talk about the awesome moments of being in the infantry but never acknowledges all of the suck that comes with it.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)
By joining the military, you’ll be killing bad guys all the time
There’s always that one kid who played too much Call of Duty or watched too many war films and came away with the wrong idea about the military. The fact is, killing bad guys accounts for (maybe) the tiniest fraction of your time spent — even if go infantry.
Let’s overlook, just for a moment, the serious mental issue at play here and say that when this doofus says he wants to “kill all the bad guys,” he means he wants to be a grunt. First, they’d need to be part of the 20% of the military considered combat arms. Then, they’d need to be a part of the 60% of troops that actually deploy at least once. Then, they’ll have to be one of the 10% of troops who actually see combat — and this is skewed because it includes every troop that’s seen combat even just a single time, not the sustained badassery that most of these would-be killers expect. That number is astronomically low.
Then you’ll run into the old, “you’ve already got 10 years in, you might as well stay until retirement!” …And we do…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Yasmin D. Perez)
You can simply collect the benefits and bounce
If you think you’ll just come in for the three years and get your full ride of the GI Bill, I won’t stop you. Good luck with that — the military has a way of keeping troops in.
It’s not really clear why it works so well, but the one of the most repeated lines by senior NCOs when retention numbers are low is, “you won’t find a job out there in the real world except Walmart greeter!” That one phrase has done more to keep troop numbers up than any motivational recruitment ad.
You’ll be so acquainted with the world’s deserts that you can tell exactly where someone is in the world just by the color of the dirt and sand around them…
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Garas)
By joining the military, you’ll travel the world
Oh, you’ll travel the world alright. There’s no denying that. It’s just that none of the locations on your bucket list match up with anywhere Uncle Sam wants to send you.
Sure, there’s a possibility that you’ll get stationed in Hawaii, Europe, or East Asia. But chances are far better that you’ll get sent to the exotic Fort Sill, Oklahoma, or tropical Minot AFB, North Dakota, before going to Trashcanistan.
It’s easy to see American military members in uniform and sort of lump them all in together as a single unit – that’s kind of the point of part of their lives. But it’s only a part of their lives. Once the uniform is off or they’re out of the military, what remains is a person. The Military Fresh Network aims to show that U.S. military members can serve their country while being the unique individuals they were created to be.
The Military Fresh Network provides them a platform to promote their real passions. From music to fitness, active military members and veterans alike turn to the Military Fresh Network to join a family and put their talents to work for them.
(Military Fresh Network)
If you look at Hank Robinson’s (above) ten years of Army infantry service, with his three Bronze Stars and Combat Infantryman Badge, you might be quick to lump him in with the stereotypical infantry grunt and all the baggage which might come along with it. But get to know the person and you’ll see a man who became enamored with metal work – so enamored he started his own engraving business after spending years perfecting his chosen art form. This is a man who now helps others work through PTSD via art therapy.
Then you realize you were too quick to judge. We all are. It’s sometimes hard to see past the decorations and the uniform. The Military Fresh Network is here to help change all that. Jimmy Cox, the founder of the Military Fresh Network, is as passionate about the talents of the people on the network as he is about his own.
Gabrielle Torres funded her college education through Miss America scholarships, but the dual-bachelors student will also be an Army officer upon graduation.
(Military Fresh Network)
“This is finally something we can do and show for ourselves,” says Cox, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Army. “The reason so many people don’t join the military today is the same reason they didn’t join ten years ago – they don’t want who they are to get lost. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your life does not have to be on hold while you wear the uniform. The Military Fresh Network shows them that. “
On the Military Fresh Network’s website, you can see the stories of dozens of America’s finest troops, officer and enlisted, who took the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States out of uniform and in their natural habitat. There, you can read their stories, see the faces of the men and women who serve, and realize their talents and skills in a way never before seen – ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Air Force veteran, Navy spouse, and fitness professional Tarryn Garlington is also a civilian working for the Army.
The site is broken down by branch of service and by the kind of skills and talent on display. Here you can see military members at their finest, playing musical instruments, bodybuilding, giving fitness tips, even showing off their street art and business savvy. It truly is a way to get to know America’s vets as real people, to interact with them, and appreciate people on a new level.
“I had my own following when I started in graphic design,” says Ana Valencia, a U.S. Army senior NCO who is also a Military Fresh Network volunteer. “The Military Fresh Network provided me with a huge platform for my work, so I became a huge advocate.”
In 2019, the Military Fresh Network will even be joining the ranks of the Military Influencer Conference sponsors. If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.
Then you can post your own business skills on The Military Fresh Network.
Described variously as everything from “the greatest B-movie ever made” to a masterpiece of horror and suspense, John Carpenter’s The Thing, which debuted on June 25, 1982, is a movie that rightfully stands amongst the likes of Alien and The Terminator as one of the most kick-ass sci-fi movies in history. The thing is, it turns out The Thing was so poorly received when it debuted that it nearly ruined Carpenter’s career.
First, for anyone unfamiliar with the The Thing, the basic plot is that a shape-shifting alien organism from the depths of space crash lands in the middle Antarctica and begins brutally assimilating the denizens of an American research base. Throughout the film, in traditional horror movie fashion, the eponymous Thing slowly kills off the cast while Kurt Russell, sporting the bushiest beard of his career, tries to incinerate it with a flamethrower. Of note is the fact that the film ends on a cliffhanger, showing Russell’s character staring down known hero of this Earth Keith David, as they both sit around waiting to freeze to death and come to the realization that one of them could be the Thing… The fate of neither man is made explicitly clear, leaving what happens next largely up to the interpretation of the audience.
For some reason audiences and critics hated this, with many a scathing review being written criticizing the movie’s nihilistic tone and lack of a satisfying conclusion to the story. This somewhat annoyed director John Carpenter who did actually film a more positive ending after being pressure by the studio, but ultimately cut it because it felt, in his words “cheesy”. As Carpenter would later note of the general reaction to the film’s ending: “The film wasn’t heroic enough, it wasn’t the U.S. Hockey team beating the Russians. That’s what people wanted to see.”
Filming of “The Thing,” 1982.
Not stopping there, perhaps the most baffling criticism levied against the film came courtesy of New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby who described the film’s practical effects as “phony looking“. A bold claim considering the film’s practical effects are still referenced today by experts in the field as being some of the most technically impressive ever seen on the silver screen.
The endless dunking on Carpenter didn’t stop with reviews, though, and the director of the film The Thing was loosely based upon, The Thing from Another World, Christian Nyby would later release a statement saying that the film was terrible. As if that wasn’t a bitter enough pill to swallow, following the bad reviews and exceptionally poor box office returns the film saw (it only managed to bring in million on a budget of million), Universal yanked Carpenter off of his next directing project and then bought out of the rest of his contract so that he wouldn’t make any more movies for them.
John Carpenter’s The Thing original trailer (1982) HQ
Carpenter, as you can imagine, was hurt by the critical mauling the film received, including being particularly stung when Sydney Magazine had a cover story on the movie titled: “Is This the Most Hated Film of All Time?”
Needless to say, Carpenter refused to comment on The Thing publicly for many years. Of course, over the years the critical consensus on the film has shifted dramatically and The Thing is now considered one of the greatest and most influential horror movies ever made. Which begs the question, what gives?
Well, according to Carpenter, one of the key reasons he believes the film flopped was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released just two weeks before The Thing. Said, Carpenter, “I just don’t think audiences in 1982 wanted to see that. They wanted to see E.T. and The Thing was the opposite of that… I was called ‘a pornographer of violence’… I had no idea it would be received that way… The Thing was just too strong for that time. I knew it was going to be strong, but I didn’t think it would be too strong…”
In the end, he didn’t think audiences were ready for a movie about a shape-shifting alien murder-beast so soon after one about a happy, friendly little alien who likes eating Reese’s Pieces.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an alarming announcement on Aug. 20, 2019 – the Islamic State terrorist group is showing signs of resurgence in almost every place it still operates. While there are some caveats to go along with that statement, the “caliphate” that was all but squashed out just four years ago is making a dramatic comeback.
“It’s complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago,” said Secretary Pompeo. While making that grim assessment on CBS “This Morning,” the Secretary of State also reminded viewers that the territory once held by the terror group has been recaptured and that making attacks in those areas would be terribly difficult for Islamic State fighters.
But guerrilla attacks have increased in Iraq and Syria in recent days, as ISIS retools its finances and recruits new followers from refugee tent cities across both countries. The statement came days after an Islamic State attack on a wedding in the Afghan capital of Kabul which killed 63 and wounded 182 others.
Pompeo was a guest on CBS This Morning when he acknowledged the resurgence of ISIS.
After President Trump declared a total victory over the Islamic State, the Pentagon has cut the number of U.S. troops supporting the fight against the “caliphate” by more than half, leaving the allies in the region to do the bulk of the fighting. As they departed, ISIS sleeper cells and other units began sniper attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, and assassinations against security forces and returning community leadership. The group even has an estimated 0 million in unaccounted for funds that it could use as a war chest.
Its main source of new recruits comes from a tent city run by allied nations that houses an estimated 73,000 people in poor, cramped conditions. The camp, called Al Hol – or “swampland”– houses refugees from 43 different nations, all crammed in together. It is said to have become a hotbed of ISIS ideology, a breeding ground for terrorists that CENTCOM and the United Nations both say will soon be a huge problem if not dealt with soon.
An estimated 10,000 fighters are in Afghanistan already.
But the ISIS resurgence isn’t limited to Iraq and Syria. From Afghanistan to West Africa, the terror group is reminding the world that theirs is a global movement that has killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians alike. ISIS may have as many as 18,000 fighters still ready to go to work in Iraq and Syria, along with untold others elsewhere around the world. So far in 2019, ISIS and ISIS-supported attacks have targeted Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Tunisia, and have even inspired attacks like the Easter bombing in Sri Lanka.
Retired General David Petraeus shared lessons learned from over fifteen years of combatting terrorists and extremists in the Middle East and Afghanistan at a forum Sept. 13.
The takeaway: even with all the US’s military’s capabilities, you can’t “drone strike your way out of a problem.”
Speaking at the Intelligence Squared US debate at New York University with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Max Boot, Petraeus — who commanded US and NATO troops in Afghanistan and served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency under former President Barack Obama — discussed what he views as the five lessons the US should have learned from combatting Islamic extremism.
First, Petraeus said that “ungoverned spaces” in the Muslim world will be exploited by extremists. Second, Petraeus said you need to do something about it, because “Las Vegas rules don’t apply.”
“What happens there does not stay there,” Petraeus added.
Third, the US must lead the charge, Petraeus said, because the US has the assets and the expertise that is “proving revolutionary” even as the military has let other countries’ troops — like the Iraqi and Afghan armies — take the lead on the front lines.
“We are advising and assisting others, and enabling with this armada of unmanned aerial vehicles that a bunch of commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan and I very much sought more of,” Petraeus said, adding that it’s not just the hardware that gives the US an edge, but the manpower and technical knowledge of the people that deploy and operate it.
Fourth, Petraeus said, there’s a clear paradox at play when combating extremist movements — like the Islamic State or al-Qaeda — that are explicitly linked to ideology.
“You cannot counter terrorists like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda with just counterterrorist force operations,” Petraeus said. “You can’t just drone strike or Delta Force raid your way out of this problem. It takes a comprehensive approach.”
The comprehensive approach Petraeus advocated involves not only targeted raids and drone strikes, but a coordinated effort among military, diplomatic, and intelligence channels to change “hearts and minds,” impose the “rule of law,” and work towards reconciliation between opposing sides.
And fifth, Petraeus said, is understanding that these conflicts are “generational struggles,” and they’re not going to be solved in a year, or even a decade.
“It’s going to require a sustained commitment,” Petraeus said. “And in view of that, it has to be a sustainable sustained commitment.”
After Boot asked whether President Donald Trump’s administration was up to the task, Petraeus parried that the “generals” within the White House are highly experienced.
Specifically referring to H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, and Ricky Waddell, McMaster’s deputy, Petraeus said they understand the complexities of prosecuting the war against Islamic extremists.
“These generals know that every problem out there is not a nail, and you just can’t find a bigger hammer,” Petraeus said. “In fact, you generally need a stiletto.”
Petraeus did say that the state of the US’s diplomatic corps — with many crucial positions at the State Department still unfilled, or with acting leaders — is “definitely a big concern,” adding that it “carries much more weight” to have the Senate confirm people to those positions.
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.