Of all the things our 16th President is remembered for these days, his uncanny strength is often overlooked. During his days on the American frontier, he was known for his strength and wrestling prowess. The “Rail Splitter” (Lincoln’s nickname), was a volunteer soldier during the Black Hawk War and even manhandled a violent viewer during one of his political speeches, leaving the podium to toss a man 12 feet away from the crowd.
The Confederacy clearly didn’t know who they were dealing with.
Lincoln didn’t kill vampires with his ax, but he could have.
Life on the American frontier was harsh for a figure like Lincoln. He was raised in rural areas of what was then the very edge of a nascent, young country. In his early years, he could barely read or write, and as such he took work as a hired hand. When he was still very young, he experienced a growth spurt that saw him towering over others. His large frame and chosen profession saw the gaunt young boy turn into a man of uncommon strength.
Young Lincoln moved around the country on more than one occasion, and the first thing that needed to be done in his new home was to clear an area of trees and construct his new dwelling. For this, he needed a trusty ax – a tool with which he would become an expert user. His skills with an ax would come in handy later, as his reputation as a free laborer (as opposed to, say, a slave) catapulted him to the White House in 1860.
Just like how Lincoln catapulted bullies left and right.
While occupying the White House, Lincoln had very little use for his skills as a laborer, but the strength he acquired in his early years never left him. On the day before the end of the Civil War, the President was visiting a military hospital in Virginia and spent much of the day shaking hands with Union soldiers, both wounded and not wounded. Onlookers swore the 56-year-old must have shaken thousands of hands that day. But when one Union troop told the President that he must be tired from a day full of shaking hands, Lincoln took it as a challenge.
Spotting an ax, he opted to show a feat of strength he’d done many, many times before when wanting to bond with Union soldiers. He was known to even challenge them to the display of strength he was about to put on for the Petersburg, Va. hospital patients and their visitors.
An Army of Abraham Lincolns would have been unstoppable.
Lincoln walked over to the ax, picked it up by the butt, and held it out at arms’ length, parallel to the ground for as long as he could.
“Strong men who looked on, men accustomed to manual labor, could not hold the same ax in that position for a moment,” wrote Francis Fisher Browne, a Union soldier who authored a biography called The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln.
Such a feat of strength by the Commander-In-Chief was impressive to Union soldiers. Very often, they couldn’t manage such a stunt. During the hospital visit, after holding out the ax, he even began chopping a log nearby, showering onlookers with chips of wood – which they all kept.
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Sports, in large part, were halted when the U.S. military became involved in World War II. The Indy 500 was canceled to save gasoline, and the U.S. Open golf tournament was scrapped favoring resources in rubber, which typically made golf equipment. Several professional athletes, managers, owners, and even rules officials across many leagues enlisted, commissioned, or were drafted.
These sports icons sacrificed the prime of their careers for a cause bigger than themselves. On the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, we celebrate the lives of some of sports’ greatest stars who served during this time.
(Courtesy of World Golf Hall of Fame)
“I don’t suppose that any of the pro and amateur golfers who were combat soldiers, Marines, or sailors will soon be able to think of a three-putt green as of the really bad troubles in life,” Mangrum said when he returned from World War II. Mangrum was both a veteran of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Before he left for war to fight with General Patton’s Third Army, he made a pact with his friend, Sergeant Robert Green. Each ripped a id=”listicle-2641582160″ bill in half, vowing to each return it when the war ended. Green was killed in action, thus the pair never rekindled their promise.
Mangrum and his brother spent their childhood in the backyard where his thirst for competition began. “A small creek ran behind our house,” he told the NY Times. “My brother, Ray, and I built a crude green on the opposite bank and had [sic] pitching contests with a rustyblade old mashie somebody had discarded.” Soon he was a caddie learning how to approach the game through judgment. He took first place in the first US Open (1946) golf tournament since its hiatus during World War II. He became known as “Mr. Icicle” for his calmness on the links, which he credits how nothing on the golf course could rattle him like the battlefield.
Ralph Houk is not a name that is first mentioned when thinking of a New York Yankee, but he should be. His commanding officer, Caesar Flore, spoke of his battlefield fearlessness when he sent Houk out in a jeep to do reconnaissance on enemy scouting positions. He didn’t return until two nights later, and Flore listed him as ‘missing in action.’ “When he had returned, he had a three day growth of beard and hand grenades hanging all over him,” Flore said. “He was back of the enemy lines the entire time. I know he must’ve enjoyed himself. He had a hole in one side of his helmet, and a hole in the other where the bullet left. When I told him about his helmet he said, ‘I could have [sic] swore I heard a ricochet.'”
Houk rose from Private to Major in four years and earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, and a Purple Heart for when he was wounded in the calf during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he secured the back-up catcher’s position behind Yogi Berra and became a manager where players referred to him as “The Major” for his wartime discipline.
(Courtesy of the New York Times.)
Gino Marchetti was known primarily for two things: being a Hall of Fame defensive end for the Baltimore Colts and an entrepreneur who co-owned a restaurant called Gino’s with teammate Alan Ameche. Their influence was so great that members of the community, including New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, often muttered their slogan “Gino’s, oh yeah!” while they visited players at their favorite hamburger joint.
What most don’t know is that Gino Marchetti served as a machine gunner with Company I, 273rd Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. “You don’t realize that you are going to see some of your friends go down,” Marchetti told ESPN. “You don’t realize any of it. For example, the first time I ever saw snow, I slept in it. It’s hell.” Marchetti credits joining the Army as the greatest thing he had ever done because it gave him the discipline and toughness to compete in the NFL.
Nestor Chylak’s career behind home plate almost never came to be. While serving as a Technical Sergeant in the US Army’s 424 Infantry Regiment, Chylak was severely wounded on January 3, 1945, in the Ardennes Forest. While his battalion braced artillery fire in the blistering cold and blanketed snow, an artillery shell exploded a tree, which sent splinters traveling the speed of bullets into his face. He was blind for ten days, but ultimately regained his eyesight. He was awarded both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Chylak would go on to become one of the most legendary MLB Umpires in the history of the game. He was never one to cower to a feisty manager’s tirade, nor did he get flustered from loud boos from fans. He umpired baseball’s bizarre promotion games like the infamous “10-Cent Beer Night” promotion in Cleveland and Bob Veeck’s “Disco Demolition Night” in Detroit. Both promotions ended in similar flair — a forfeiture and a flying chair. Chylak, however, umpired for 25 years in five World Series and was respected for his fairness.
At the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, a bronze plaque in the Umpire Exhibit says in his jest, “This must be the only job in America that everybody knows how to do better than the guy who’s doing it.”
The Russian military is getting ready for what is said to be an “unprecedented” military exercise, but as thousands of men and machines gather in Russia’s east, leaders in Moscow may be increasingly concerned about what’s going on in the West.
Early August 2018, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called the upcoming Vostok-2018, or East-2018, exercises “the largest preparatory action for the armed forces since Zapad-81,” referring to a Soviet military exercise in 1981 involving about 100,000 to 150,000 troops, according to a CIA estimate at the time.
Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, that the Vostok-2018 exercise, scheduled for Sept. 11-15, 2018, will have some similarities to Zapad-81 but involve vastly more personnel.
“In some ways, they resemble the Zapad-81 drills but in other ways they are, perhaps, even larger,” Shoigu said, according to Russian state-owned media outlet Tass.
“Over 1,000 aircraft, almost 300,000 servicemen at almost all the training ranges of the Central and Eastern Military Districts and, naturally, the Pacific and Northern Fleets and the Airborne Force will be fully employed.”
Russian troops participating in Zapad-2017.
(Russian Ministry of Defense)
The Russian military has already begun evaluating its forces’ combat readiness and logistical support with “snap inspections” that involve special drills and are done under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Just imagine that 36,000 pieces of military hardware are simultaneously in motion: these are tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles and all this is, naturally, checked in conditions close to a combat environment,” Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, according to Tass.
Russia has invited military attaches from NATO countries to observe the upcoming exercises — an offer that a NATO spokesman told Reuters was under consideration.
Russia conducted another large-scale exercise, Zapad-17, or West-17, in September 2017. About 70,000 personnel took part in that — though only about 13,000 of them were part of the main event that took place in Belarus and western Russia. (The number of troops involved became a point of contention between Russia and NATO.)
Russian forces will not be the only ones taking part this time around. Chinese and Mongolian units will also take part, with Beijing reportedly sending more than 3,000 troops, 30 helicopters, and more than 900 pieces of other military hardware.
Chinese participation in Russian military exercises “speaks about the expansion of interaction of the two allies in all the spheres,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Aug, 28, 2018, according to Tass.
‘It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time’
Peskov was asked if the expense of the Vostok-18 exercise was necessary at a time when Russia’s economy is struggling and demands for more social spending are rising.
“The social security network and the pension system are a constant element of state policy and a very important component,” Peskov responded, according to Tass. “But the country’s defense capability in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly for our country, is justified, needed and has no alternative.”
Russia has consistently condemned Western military activity and NATO maneuvers as provocative, but Peskov’s reply may hint at a growing unease in Moscow, which is still uncertain about President Donald Trump as it watches the defense alliance deploy an array of units to its eastern flank.
Trump has signaled a conciliatory stance toward Russia and hostility toward NATO, but those attitudes haven’t translated significantly into US or NATO policy.
“We don’t like the picture we are seeing,” Vladimir Frolov, an independent political analyst in Moscow, told Defense News.
“NATO is getting serious about its combat capabilities and readiness levels. Trump may trash NATO and his European allies,” he said, “but it is the capabilities that matter, and those have been growing under Trump.”
President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, July 16, 2018.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
NATO members have been boosting their defense spending and working to build military readiness — moves stoked recently by the combination of uncertainty about Trump and concern about assertive Russian action, like the incursion in Ukraine in 2014.
Some European countries are also debating augmenting their own militaries and defense sectors. Germany, long averse to a large military footprint, is looking to recruit more troops, and some there have restarted debate about whether Berlin should seek its own nuclear-weapons capability.
Moscow has long used confrontation with the West to bolster its domestic political standing, and many leaders in the West have come to identify Russia as a main geopolitical foe — a dynamic that is likely to perpetuate tensions.
Early 2018 Russian officials called military exercises involving NATO and Ukrainian personnel “an attempt to once again provoke tension in southeastern Ukraine and in the entire Black Sea region” and said “countries … constantly accusing Russia of threatening regional stability shall be held responsible for possible negative consequences.”
NATO spokesman Dylan White told Reuters that countries have a right to conduct military exercises, “but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner.”
“Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” White added. “It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There’s an old U.S. Marine adage: “The only color that matters in the Corps is green.” That saying got its start in the 1970s under the guidance of Gen. Leonard Chapman, Jr. In the 20th Century, the U.S. military was far ahead of the rest of the country in terms of race relations.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its shameful moments.
There are so many stories of American troops overcoming racial bias in World War II because Chapman is right: the only color that mattered was (and still is) green. It would be years before these stories became widespread. It would take even longer for the stories of racial bias without happy endings to come to light.
One such story is that Cpl. John E. James, Jr. James, an African-American drafted in 1941, attended officer training school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1942. But instead of graduating with the deserved rank of second lieutenant, he was given corporal’s stripes and shipped overseas with an all-black unit.
The U.S. Army rectified that error in judgment on June 29, 2018, according to the New York Times. James was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant at age 98.
“It’s unbelievable,” James, who comes from a military family dating all the way back to the Revolution, told the New York Times. “I thought it would never happen.”
James’ daughter spent three years fighting the Army Review Board to get her father his promotion. It was originally denied because his OCS records were lost in a fire – but they resurfaced in the National Archives. His daughter even had a photo of his graduating class as proof.
(Museum of the American Revolution)
When James was told he wasn’t going to be an officer, he did his duty like any U.S. troop might have during World War II. He took the racial injustice and became a typist in a quartermaster battalion. When he got home after the war, he didn’t even tell his wife.
But 76 years later, with the support of his family and his senator, he found himself reciting the officer’s oath to retired Air Force General and former Chief of Staff John P. Jumper at the Museum of the American Revolution.
There is no word on his date of rank and if it comes with back pay.
As military spouses, when our husbands or wives announce they finally put in for orders, our minds drift in one direction after we’ve learned possible locations…
Prepping for our PCS
As we have moved from duty station to duty station, our family has collected PCS purges from other families, thrift store finds we needed while waiting for our own household goods to arrive, souvenirs and other mementos, and of course, boxes from three duty stations ago that we’re too afraid to even open and sort through.
Every PCS ends up the same way – we’re stressed out, frustrated about going through our stuff and hoping we’re still under the maximum weight allowance, and then we’re passing our stress, anxieties, and frustration onto our children because we’re now trying to do a million things before the movers arrive.
But what if I told you that it could be different? What if we didn’t have a million things to sort through? What if our homes were already pretty much prepped for the next PCS, no matter what time of the year it is? When I stumbled across Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, I was skeptical. I hadn’t heard of her before and I hadn’t read her books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, though I had learned about how people within the Japanese culture often purge any objects within their homes that do not bring them joy on a regular basis.
(Flickr photo by TheMuuj)
Like many other military families, we start sifting through our stuff months in advance of a PCS to get rid of what we don’t want or need anymore, and I wasn’t quite sure that anyone could make it easier than going systematically from room to room, starting with our storage.
And yet, as I watched, I was quickly sucked in because you could actually see the joy she experienced teaching people how to become more tidy, and she even has a system, which she calls the KonMari Method, which is to organize by category rather than by location, and also to tidy the five categories in the home in a specific order:
Komono (Kitchen, Bathroom, Garage, and anything miscellaneous)
According to the KonMari Method, you should hold each item individually and ask if it brings you joy. If it does not spark joy, it should be given to a friend or donated (check out your local installation thrift store information and how to donate!) However, if it is an item that is well used but does not spark joy (I’m sure my garage tools would fall under this), you can keep the item and try to change the way you feel about those items.
If you’ve been holding onto clothes that don’t fit, Marie says you should ask: do those clothes inspire you to work out so that you fit back into them or do they make you dread exercise because you don’t fit into them anymore? Marie also believes that folding your clothes is another way to show love and appreciation to your clothes, and to maximize storage space, she has a method of folding your shirts and pants into thirds so they can stand upright, which is similar to how servicemembers learn how to fold in bootcamp.
So what does it feel like for an item to bring you joy?
Marie says that the item should spark the same feeling as holding a puppy or wearing your favorite outfit, giving you a warm, positive feeling. If you do not get that feeling and it is not something that you use regularly, you should let the item go and thank each item before you donate or give it away.
After you sort through the first three categories by taking everything out and touching each item, the next step is sorting through the Komono category, which includes all of your miscellaneous items (everything in your home that is not clothes, books, and papers (such as legal documents, orders, and military records) as well as the garage and kitchen.
Marie is a huge fan of using boxes to store items that are of like-size as well as sorting items into categories. She recommends standing items up when possible, designating spots for everything, and using tiny boxes in the kitchen to give everything a “home.”
For the final category, Sentimental items, there are many categories – memorabilia, old letters, photos, and even old medals, challenge coins, and uniform items could be considered to have sentimental value. Marie challenges you to store your sentimental items where you can view them, such as putting photos into frames and coffee table albums so that they can be more easily viewed. Military families could utilize shadow boxes for our uniform items and/or medals to display them, and there are also great challenge coin holders available on websites like Etsy.
Can our next PCS move be different?
The best thing about the KonMari Method is that she doesn’t expect you to complete this in a day – you are literally touching every item in your home and purging the items that do not bring you joy. Our family’s goal will be to use the KonMari Method in the spring and late fall so that the next time we need to move, it won’t be such an overwhelming process to purge all of the things we hadn’t been using in the past 2-3 years.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
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.
The Air Force is mapping a two-fold future path for its B-1 bomber which includes plans to upgrade the bomber while simultaneously preparing the aircraft for eventual retirement as the service’s new stealth bomber arrives in coming years.
These two trajectories, which appear as somewhat of a paradox or contradiction, are actually interwoven efforts designed to both maximize the bomber’s firepower while easing an eventual transition to the emerging B-21 bomber, Air Force officials told Warrior Maven.
“Once sufficient numbers of B-21 aircraft are operational, B-1s will be incrementally retired. No exact dates have been established,” Maj. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven. “The Air Force performs routine structural inspections, tests and necessary repairs to ensure the platform remains operationally viable until sufficient numbers of B-21s are operational.”
The B-21 is expected to emerge by the mid-2020s, so while the Air Force has not specified a timetable, the B-1 is not likely to be fully retired until the 2030s.
Service officials say the current technical overhaul is the largest in the history of the B-1, giving the aircraft an expanded weapons ability along with new avionics, communications technology, and engines.
Official U.S. Air Force Artist Rendering of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Heavy Bomber.
The engines are being refurbished to retain their original performance specs, and the B-1 is getting new targeting and intelligence systems, Grabowski said.
A new Integrated Battle Station includes new aircrew displays and communication links for in-flight data sharing.
“This includes machine-to-machine interface for rapid re-tasking and/or weapon retargeting,” Grabowski added.
Another upgrade called The Fully Integrated Targeting Pod connects the targeting pod control and video feed into B-1 cockpit displays. The B-1 will also be able to increase its carriage capacity of 500-pound class weapons by 60-percent due to Bomb Rack Unit upgrades.
The B-1, which had its combat debut in Operation Desert Fox in 1998, went to drop thousands of JDAMs during the multi-year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The B-1 can hit speeds of MACH 1.25 at 40,000 feet and operates at a ceiling of 60,000 feet.
It fires a wide-range of bombs, to include several JDAMS: GBU-31, GBU-38 and GBU-54. It also fires the small diameter bomb-GBU-39.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Army Sgt. Tyler Waters, a motor transport operator with the 337th Engineer Battalion, 55th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 28th Infantry Division, placed 17th in the competition.
“I’ve been a fan of the show for years and I’ve always felt that I had the combination of strength and athleticism to excel on any of the ever-changing courses,” Waters said.
Waters came within seconds of advancing to the national competition held in Las Vegas, which would have required finishing in the top 15.
‘The experience was great’
“The experience was great,” he said. “It was interesting to see the different competitors from different walks of life that excelled in the course. Simply being physically fit, as some of the competitors appeared to be sculpted from stone, wasn’t enough.”
Sgt. Tyler Waters.
Waters credits both his family and his unit for supporting him through the competition.
“Being in the Army definitely helped to sharpen what I already envisioned as a strength of mine; my mental focus and toughness,” he said.
In his civilian life, Waters is a Pennsylvania State Trooper, which he said has many similarities to a military career and allows him to carry the same mindset he’s cultivated as a soldier at all times.
This mentality enabled Waters’ success in the American Ninja Warrior contest, and he said he hopes to compete again and reach the finals.
NATO, as we know it today, is a de facto bulwark against Russian (née Soviet) expansionism into Western Europe and potentially elsewhere. It must have come as a complete surprise when France, Great Britain, and the United States all received letters of intent from the Soviet Foreign Ministry about joining the alliance.
Originally a political alliance in Western Europe when it was formed in 1949, NATO became a solid military alliance as well when the Korean War made the idea of Communist expansion by force all too real. The same year the Soviets detonated their first nuclear weapon, the West formed an alliance to neutralize that threat. But before the Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe formed the Eastern Bloc in 1955, Russia made an attempt to join NATO.
Guess who’s coming to dinner.
Longtime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin finally died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev was the new communist sheriff in town. So in 1954, when Soviets sent the letters of intent to NATO members, there was a renewed spirit of easing tensions. The Soviets reasoned that the aggressive nature of the NATO alliance would be much less dangerous to world peace if their former anti-Hitler ally were allowed to be a member.
Forgot about An-dre.
But in order to join the alliance, the Soviet Union would have to allow NATO to dictate its military planning and allow the basic tenets of democratic freedoms to bloom in all areas under its control. The debate about potentially allowing Russia to join reminded the member states that the alliance was formed to address threats to world peace when the UN couldn’t — usually because of Russia’s veto power on the Security Council.
Allowing the Russians to have a say in NATO affairs would neutralize NATO the way they neutralized the UN Security Council.
Can’t blame them for trying.
NATO told the Russians exactly that when the alliance rejected Russia’s application for membership, urging it and other Soviet satellites to allow the UN to do its job in keeping the world secure. It was not an unexpected response for the USSR.
“Most likely, the organizers of the North Atlantic bloc will react negatively to this step of the Soviet government and will advance many different objections. In that event the governments of the three powers will have exposed themselves, once again, as the organizers of a military bloc against other states and it would strengthen the position of social forces conducting a struggle against the formation of the European Defense Community,” Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov wrote.
Nine days later, Russia and those satellites formed the Warsaw Pact, its Eastern Bloc counter-alliance. Europe was officially split for the next 40-plus years.
A British F-35 pilot has pulled off what the Royal Navy called a “milestone” maneuver, executing a backward landing on the deck of Britain’s largest warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The Royal Air Force test pilot Squadron Leader Andy Edgell flew his American-made F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter across the bow of the large British aircraft carrier.
The pilot then brought the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft to a hover over the deck before gently setting it down, the Royal Navy said in a statement Nov. 19, 2018. He said the F-35 jump jet “handled beautifully.”
The aviation achievement is intended to give the carrier crew additional options in the event of an emergency. Given the nature of the aircraft, the landing was not radically different from more conventional alternatives.
An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter landing on the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
(Royal Navy photo)
The British Royal Navy said this atypical landing was like “driving the wrong way down a one-way street.” Reflecting on the maneuver, Edgell said, “It was briefly bizarre to bear down on the ship and see the waves parting on the bow as you fly an approach aft facing.”
“It was also a unique opportunity fly towards the ship, stare at the bridge, and wonder what the captain is thinking,” he added.
This maneuver, like the previously executed conventional landings and rolling landings, was part of a nine-week intensive training program that began off the US east coast.
An F-35B Lightning II above the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 25, 2018.
(UK Ministry of Defense)
The first landing was carried out Sept. 25, 2018, when Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray landed an F-35B on the deck of the carrier. It marked the first time in eight years that an aircraft had landed on a British carrier. The UK had previously acquired the F-35, and its new carrier set sail in 2017. The combination of the two was championed as the dawn of a new era for British sea power.
Commodore Andrew Betton, the commander of the UK carrier strike group, called it “a tremendous step forward in reestablishing the UK’s carrier strike capability.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The very moment a United States Armed Forces recruit steps foot off the bus, they’ll be greeted by a non-commissioned officer wearing a campaign hat and, in that moment, their life will change forever. Every branch in the Armed Forces (with exception of the Navy) uses a variation of the same, broad-brimmed hat. When you see someone wearing it, you know they’re dedicated to breaking the civilian out of young prospects and molding Uncle Sam a batch of new, capable warfighters.
But long before the campaign hat became the official headgear of every private’s nightmares, it was used by soldiers in the Old West, who casually wore it for so long that it just kind of became an official thing.
Don’t get this confused with the Stetson worn by cavalrymen. The campaign hat was mostly worn by infantrymen.
The campaign hat was first worn back in the 1840s by soldiers making their way across the country toward the Pacific. The typical forage cap used out east simply wasn’t a suitable option for blocking out the blinding sun that hung relentlessly above the American deserts.
The soldiers heading west were so far away from the brass (and military regulations was comparatively relaxed in those times) that they simply substituted regulation gear with whatever else made more sense. It was said that they were inspired by the sombreros of the Mexican Vaqueros, but the soldiers made their hats smaller to be more practical for longer rides.
The new unofficial hat finally got recognition and was authorized in the 1870s. This version was made of black felt, had a softer brim, and was still missing the distinctive pinch on the top. Over the years, the hat underwent several slight adjustments until becoming the campaign hat we know and love/fear today.
Technically speaking, Smokey the Bear has been around longer (1944) than the Army has officially had drill sergeants (1964). So they kinda took his hat.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Stephen Linch)
The British took note of the campaign hat and soon incorporated it into the wardrobe of their armies located around the Empire, as many fought under conditions similar to those of the Wild West — like the Boer Wars in South Africa. Canadian, South African, and Kiwi troops all adapted the hat — the Canadian Military then famously handed it down to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
By the turn of the century, the hat also became synonymous with the Buffalo Soldiers — in fact, they were responsible for sewing in the iconic “Montana Pinch” we all recognize today. The Buffalo Soldiers were tasked into various national parks and became some of the first national park rangers.
Later, park rangers, CBP agents, and highway policemen would all wear similar campaign hats in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers who’d, essentially, laid the foundation for their careers. Meanwhile, the troops tossed the hat at the advent of WWI as helmets were the preferred combat headgear.
Never thought we would all have to thank the Coast Guard for keeping this terror-inducing hat alive and well… but they adopted it during the Spanish-American War and never abandoned it during the World Wars.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm)
One by one, each branch began putting recruits through more extensive and intense recruit training programs, helmed by the finest NCOs each branch had to offer. The Marines were the first in 1956 — and they needed an easily identifiable symbol to distinguish the drill instructor from everyone else.
They chose the campaign cover for all the same reasons the soldiers of the Wild West did — the fact that recruits couldn’t clearly see the eyes of the DI under the brim was just an added bonus. Other branches quickly followed suit. The Army adopted it in 1964 and the Air Force and Coast Guard did so in 1967
Which leaves out the Navy. Fact is, the Navy has just never had a reason to use the hat and has never showed any intentions of switching.
If you’ve been on the internet at all for the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen news regarding the Facebook event “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” It started out mostly as a joke – if you couldn’t tell by the name of the group that’s hosting it being called “Sh*tposting cause im in shambles” and the only actual plan set forward is to “Naruto run faster than their bullets.” Even the date of September 20th is a reference to the anniversary of Leeroy Jenkins storming Upper Blackrock Spire by himself in World of Warcraft.
That was until, at the time of writing this article, 1.6 million people clicked “Going,” another 1.2 million are “Interested,” and a four-star general at the Pentagon had to be debriefed by some poor lower-enlisted soldier about the intricacies of a 1997 Japanese manga series about a teenage ninja with a fox demon inside him.
Which begs the question: “But what if it wasn’t a joke?” Well. It’s really circumstantial.
Something tells me that this place will probably undo most of the plans to storm Area 51.
(Screengrab via YouTube)
Absolutely nothing happens
Anyone who’s ever thrown a party using Facebook’s Event page can tell you that not all people are going to show up. Of the supposedly millions that said they’d be willing to attend, I can safely say that it will be nowhere near that number in reality.
In case there are those people that ordered a plane ticket to Nevada and are too stubborn to cancel, it doesn’t look likely either. It’s still going to be a logistical nightmare. The meet-up location at the Area 51 Tourist Attraction is still 72.4 miles from the actual “Area 51.” Unless you drove there or are renting a car, there’s no way in hell anyone is willing to walk that distance in the Nevada desert for a joke.
Everyone gets there, makes a few videos for YouTube, and goes their merry way and this all becomes a funny joke that we reference every now and then. For reference on where this meet up is supposed to happen, the video below is where “millions” of people are supposedly going to congregate. Good luck with that.
Imagine wanting to raid Area 51 to see all the futuristic alien tech just to come face-to-face with a row of these…
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman First Class Lauren Main)
They can, in fact, stop all of them
This possibility is also semi-broken down into ways that it would end in complete failure. The only difference is where the raid is stopped.
My personal guess for most likely scenario on this list is that local law enforcement would probably break up the unlawful gathering outside of a middle-of-nowhere gift shop/brothel long before anyone made a move to storm the actual installation. Given the potential crowd gathering with the sole intent on committing a federal crime, the police will probably be on scene with riot gear ready.
If, by some stretch of the imagination, the raid manages to not get stopped somewhere in the desert or single road onto the installation, they’ll be greeted by armed guards along the way. The defense contractors currently guarding the site would probably have their numbers bolstered from troops at nearby Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, and more.
The same rules of engagement that govern military operations would still likely apply. Violently engaging with a crowd of American citizens would be the absolute final resort if this line in the sand had to be reached. The “cammo dudes” today normally shoo away would-be onlookers without the use of deadly force. Anyone who’s made it this far would more than likely be detained without trouble.
But, you know, the use of deadly force IS authorized for just such an occasion…
Face it. The Fermi Paradox is real. If intergalactic aliens exist out there, they wouldn’t give a flying f*ck about stopping by Earth. Would you care about stopping by an anthill lifetimes out of your way?
(Image Credit: NASA)
Full and official disclosure (of how boring Groom Lake actually is)
Okay. Let’s finally get this out of the way because the mystery surrounding Area 51 is so enticing that it’s spawned countless conspiracy theories about what actually happens over there. Here goes…
There’s no way in hell that this could work as advertised. No amount of Kyles to punch the drywall out of the fence or Karens to speak to the managers will get you a Banshee from the Halo series. And I hate to break it to the other anime fans out there, but even by the show’s standards, if they’re still are able to casually have a conversation with each other while running at top speeds – they haven’t broken the sound barrier (at 1,125 ft/s.) Most calibers of ammunition probably used by any guard are still much faster.
That doesn’t mean this could all be a waste. Even by some strange miracle they actually do manage not to get turned into paste on first sight, they’d probably be in the exact same boat as if one of the many Freedom of Information Act requests got approved. They’d learn that it’s not that interesting.
It’s officially known as Groom Lake, and it’s just a testing ground far enough away from any civilian interference for top-secret aircraft like the U-2 spy plane and the precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird. Logically speaking, the timelines match up with “suspected” UFO sightings. Through the use of Google Satellite, you can also see countless craters in the ground still leftover from missile testing. The only reason they’re out there is because it’s one of the most remote locations in the continental U.S.The U.S. military is still developing new top-secret aircraft and missiles, and the area is still marked off for that reason. CIA documents released in 2013 showed this.
However, the large crowd outside their gates (or the possibility of a large crowd) could be enough for the government to go on record to say that there’s nothing extraterrestrial going on.