These unprecedented times are contributing to a higher level of anxiety, particularly among our Veteran population. The constant flow of often discouraging news, along with a reduced ability to mingle with others to keep spirits up, makes it difficult for some to maintain their morale. TogetherWeServed, a military heritage community website and home to over 1.9 million U.S. Military Veterans, wants to help.
A secure virtual base for Veterans
During a Veteran’s military service, their base, ship or shore station is place to call home – a safe haven to share in the company of some of the finest men and women with a mission in common. Together We Served (TWS) aims to replicate that same spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in its own “Virtual Base” website.
With its membership containing only active serving and Veterans, TWS provides a secure platform for all Veterans to engage with other Veterans on a level that is simply not possible in most social networking environments.
Together We Served’s forums encourage informal discussion, reminiscent of barrack-room banter on a wide range of interests – from local community discussion, uplifting military humor and interesting hobbies, to lively debate on current political issues.
With a number of members suffering from combat-related and other health issues, TWS’s Support Forums provide a safe environment where Veterans can discuss the situations they face each day.
Create your own military service page on the Together We Served site.
The joy of locating a long-lost buddy cannot be underestimated and TWS has proven to be an accomplished Veteran locator. You can easily find other Veterans you served with, without having to enter names, by way of TWS’s ability to automatically match the service information you enter on your Military Service Page with the service information on the pages of all other TWS members. The list of matching members is particularly useful as names are often forgotten.
More free time can provide an additional opportunity. TWS’s Military Service Page is designed to honor the military service of each and every Veteran. Each Veteran’s Page displays: their photo in uniform, rank insignia, medals and awards (displayed exactly as worn), all badges and unit patches; and names, dates and locations of their boot camp, training schools, unit assignments, as well as any combat or non-combat operations participated in. Unlimited photographs from military service can be scanned and added to the TWS Photo Album. A step by step self-interview called “Service Reflections” captures the memories of key people and events that made an important impact on a Veterans life. The result is a rich, visual presentation of a Veteran’s entire military service which, once shared, becomes a lasting legacy for their children and grandchildren.
In support of the Veteran community at this difficult time, Veterans are invited to join Together We Served, via the link below, to receive a FREE 12-months Premium Membership.
The United States military has relied on drone aircraft for years, but to date, few other automated platforms have made their way into America’s warfighting apparatus — that is, until recently anyway. After achieving a number of successes with their new 132-foot submarine-hunting robot warship the Sea Hunter, the Navy is ready to pony up some serious cash for a full-sized drone warship, and the concept could turn the idea of Naval warfare on its head.
Earlier this month, the Navy called on the shipbuilding industry to offer up its best takes on their Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV) ship concept, and they mean business. According to Navy officials, they want to have ten of these drone warships sailing within the next five years. The premise behind the concept is a simple one: by developing drone ships that can do what the Navy refers to as “3-D” work (the stuff that’s Dull, Dirty, or Dangerous) they’ll be freeing up manned vessels for more complex tasks.
The Navy expects these ships to be between 200 and 300 feet long with about 2,000 tons of water displacement, making them around half to two-thirds the size of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, potentially landing in the light frigate classification. To that end, the Navy has already requested $400 million in the 2020 budget for construction of the first two vessels for the purposes of research and development.
The Sea Hunter, a Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV)
US Navy Photo
In order to manage a variety of tasks, the Navy wants its robot warship to be modular, making it easier to add or remove mission-specific equipment for different sets of circumstances.
“The LUSV will be a high-endurance, reconfigurable ship able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions to augment the Navy’s manned surface force,” The Navy wrote in their solicitation.
“With a large payload capacity, the LUSV will be designed to conduct a variety of warfare operations independently or in conjunction with manned surface combatants.”
The Navy also requires that the vessel be capable of operating with a crew on board for certain missions. That capability, in conjunction with a modular design, would allow the Navy to use LUSV’s in more complex missions that require direct human supervision simply by installing the necessary components and providing the vessel with a crew.
The solicitation included no requests for weapons systems, but that doesn’t mean the LUSV would be worthless in a fight. The modular design would allow the Navy to equip the vessel with different weapons systems for different operations, or leave them off entirely during missions that don’t require any offensive or defensive capabilities.
Swapping drone ships in for monotonous work could free up the Navy’s fleet of manned vessels for more important tasks.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate)
By equipping these ships with modular vertical launch systems, for instance, a fleet of LUSVs could enhance the Navy’s existing fleet of destroyers and cruisers in a number of combat operations, and eventually, they could even be equipped with the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, allowing them to bolster or even replace destroyers currently tasked with steaming around in defensive patterns amid concerns about North Korean or Chinese ballistic missile attack.
Like the Sea Hunter, the LUSV represents little more than the Navy dipping its toe in the proverbial drone waters, but if successful, it could revolutionize how the Navy approaches warfare. Manning a ship remains one of the largest expenses associated with maintaining a combatant fleet. Capable drone ships could allow the Navy to bolster its numbers with minimal cost, tasking automated vessels with the monotonous or dangerous work and leaving the manned ships to the more complex tasks.
The Army’s is looking for new weapons and capabilities for Stryker armored combat vehicles in addition to the improved hulls and 30mm cannons already being added to the vehicles.
The effort to up-gun Strykers, typically equipped with .50-cals, Mk. 19 grenade launchers, or M240Bs, has been going on since Sep. 2013. That was when the Army first announced tests of the 30mm weapons.
“(This) maintains a lethal overmatch that we want to make sure our forces have,” Army Lt. Col. Scott DeBolt told Army.mil at a 2014 demonstration of the 30mm cannon. “It has lethality, mobility and protection, and survivability. When we have a firefight, we don’t want it to last 40 minutes. It’d be nice if it lasted 40 seconds. This vehicle provides that 40-second fight.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Javelins would replace TOW missiles on the M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle or be fielded as a new anti-tank Stryker variant. The TOW missiles currently deployed on M1134s have a longer range but smaller warheads than Javelin missiles. Also, the Javelin can target helicopters and surface vessels that the TOW missile would be unlikely to hit.
Regardless of what the Army decides is the Stryker’s next weapon configuration, the effort to upgrade flat-bottomed Strykers with V-shaped hulls will continue. The improved hulls grant increased protection for the crew during mine and IED strikes.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis can only raise troop numbers in Afghanistan by approximately 3,900 before having to further consult the the White House, a memo obtained July 6 by The Wall Street Journal revealed.
The memo casts further light on President Donald Trump’s June 2017 decision to allow Mattis to set troop levels in Afghanistan. The decision follows months of deliberations by the White House on the Trump administration’s path forward in Afghanistan.
Mattis is reportedly mulling sending his maximum allotted number of 4,000 more troops, but has publicly insisted that any troop increases will be paired with a broader political strategy to force reconciliation with the Taliban movement, saying “we’re not looking at a purely military strategy.” Reconciliation would entail the Taliban dropping their armed insurrection against the Afghan government and joining the political process.
“We’re talking now about putting what we call NATO air support, down at the brigade level, so when they are in contact, the high ground is now going to be owned by the Afghans. It’s a fundamental change to how we bring our … real superiority in terms of air support to help them. In other words, we’re not talking about putting our troops on the front line,” Mattis explained in mid-June regarding forthcoming changes to the Afghan review.
Both CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel and US Forces Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson have said that they need a few thousand more troops to more effectively train, advise, and assist the Afghan forces. Nicholson indicated before Congress that more troops would allow him to deploy troops closer to the front lines, and embed advisors at lower levels of the chain of command within the Afghan forces.
Mattis is expected to bring his final proposal for the way forward in Afghanistan in mid-July. In the meantime, the US effort in Afghanistan is not going well. The Afghan National Security Forces are beset by corruption and suffering devastating losses, and it is unclear what additional advisors can realistically do to turn the army into an autonomous fighting force.
The US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction noted in late April that the security force’s casualties continue to be “shockingly high.” The report highlighted that 807 Afghan troops were killed in just the first six weeks of 2017, and that nearly 35 percent of the force chooses not to re-enlist each year.
Iran’s judiciary says the country has executed a man convicted of providing information to the United States and Israel about a top Iranian commander later killed by a U.S. drone strike in Iraq.
“Mahmud Musavi-Majd’s sentence was carried out on Monday morning over the charge of espionage so that the case of his betrayal to his country will be closed forever,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported on July 20.
Iranian authorities in June said Musavi-Majd passed on information about the whereabouts of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. air strike near Baghdad in January.
The judiciary said last month that Musavi-Majd’s death sentence had been upheld by the Supreme Court and would be carried out “soon.”
The execution came a day after three men linked to anti-government protests last November received stays from the death penalty amid a massive social-media campaign calling for Iran to halt state executions.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s killing in the early hours of January 3, an Iranian ballistic-missile strike on an Iraqi air base left some 110 U.S. troops suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
Hours later, Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Iran blamed a misaligned missile battery and miscommunication between soldiers and superior officers.
Iranian officials did not say whether Musavi-Majd’s case was linked to Iran’s announcement in the summer of 2019 that it had captured 17 spies working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
It said some of them had been sentenced to death.
The report comes after Iran’s judiciary announced on July 14 that a former Defense Ministry worker convicted of selling information to the CIA had been executed.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said on July 14 that Reza Asgari had been in touch with the CIA during his last years serving at the Defense Ministry and sold the agency information about Iran’s missile program.
Esmaili said Asgari was executed a week earlier, adding that he had worked in the aerospace department of the Defense Ministry and retired four years ago.
A recent online protest against executions has been joined by many Iranians — including ordinary citizens as well as intellectuals, former politicians, and prominent artists.
In the face of the protest, Iran’s judiciary ordered a retrial for Amir Hossein Moradi, 25, Said Tamjidi, 27, and Mohammad Rajabi, 25.
Their lawyers said they were maintaining hope that the sentences could be reversed.
But the head of Iran’s judiciary, hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, downplayed that possibility.
“You should listen to protests, but unrest and riots that endanger the country’s security are our red line,” Raisi said on July 20.
The three were among many who were arrested in a brutal crackdown against demonstrators who took to the streets in dozens of cities and towns across Iran in November 2019.
Analysts said the social-media campaign was unprecedented in its scope and the level of participation of Iranians both within and outside Iran.
Amnesty International recorded 251 executions in Iran during 2019, making Iran second to China in state executions.
In December 2003, Michael Trotter, Jr. was a soldier stationed in Baghdad, Iraq. His unit was camped out in one of Saddam Hussein’s bombed-out palaces when his commanding officer discovered a piano and suggested Trotter, who enjoyed singing, check it out.
“You had to crawl over soot and rut and rock and rubble from the war to get to this piano; it was like one of those dramatic movie scenes,” Trotter told Real Clear Life.
“Dear Martha” is about the letters written between loved ones divided by war. Trotter recorded the song with his wife, Tanya Blount, as part of their musical duo, The War and Treaty, which explores the concept of creating music out of darkness and despair to find peace, tranquility, and a higher purpose.
While this video doesn’t include any visuals, you can hear their tranquil notes and haunting harmonies by clicking play below — and you really, really should:
Vladimir Putin has coasted to a fourth term as Russia’s president, scoring a landslide victory in an election Kremlin opponents said was marred by fraud and international observers said gave voters no “real choice.”
A nearly complete ballot count showed Putin winning 76.7 percent of the vote, Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said on March 19, 2018 — more than he received in any of his three previous elections and the highest percentage handed to any post-Soviet Russian leader.
Voter turnout was over 67 percent and the other seven candidates were far behind, she said.
While tainted by allegations of fraud — in some cases backed by webcam footage appearing to show blatant ballot-box stuffing — the resounding win sets Moscow’s longest-ruling leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin up for six more years in office amid severely strained ties with the West.
Putin’s government-stoked popularity and the Kremlin’s sway over politics nationwide after years of steps to sideline challengers made Putin’s victory a foregone conclusion.
“Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice,” Michael Georg Link, special coordinator and leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) short-term observer mission, told reporters in Moscow.
“But where the legal framework restricts many fundamental freedoms and the outcome is not in doubt, elections almost lose their purpose — empowering people to choose their leaders,” he added.
Pamfilova said voting results had been annulled in five districts amid reports of ballot-stuffing, but she denied any incidents of observers being attacked or blocked from polling stations, despite apparent video evidence posted online.
She asserted that were “at least two times fewer” violations than in the 2012 presidential vote, which put Putin back in the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
The OSCE, which had more than 500 observers in Russia for the vote, said that while legal and technical aspects of the election were well administered, “the extensive coverage in most media of the incumbent as president resulted in an uneven playing field.”
Among the first leaders to congratulate Putin was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has just been handed a second term himself and appeared to be positioned for indefinite rule after presidential term limits were lifted last week.
Other authoritarian leaders — incuding Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev, Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro — were also quick to congratulate Putin.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has received crucial Russian backing in a devastating civil conflict that has led to war crimes accusations, congratulated Putin on a result he called the “natural outcome of your outstanding… performance.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Aleksandar Vucic, the president of traditional Russian ally Serbia, also congratulated Putin.
But amid worsening tensions between the West and Russia after the poisoning of a former spy with a potent nerve agent — an attack Britain blames on Moscow — many leaders chose their words cautiously when they spoke to Putin.
In a phone call, French President Emmanuel Macron wished Putin “success for the political, democratic, economic, and social modernization” of Russia, and urged him to shed light on the “unacceptable” poisoning, the Elysee Palace said.
Angela Merkel’s spokesman said at midday on March 19, 2018, that the German chancellor would send Putin a congratulatory telegram “very soon,” but also pointed to tension in relations with Moscow.
“We have differences of opinion with Russia and we very clearly criticize Russia’s policies on some issues — Ukraine, Syria,” Steffen Seibert said, adding that it was nonetheless important to maintain contact with the Russian leadership.
Heiko Maas, Germany’s new foreign minister, questioned the fairness of the election and said Moscow will remain “a difficult partner,” although he added that the European Union must be able to continue to talk to Russia.
“The result of the election in Russia was as unsurprising to us as the circumstances of the election. We can’t talk about a fair political competition in all respects as we would understand it,” he said in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
“Russia will remain a difficult partner. But Russia will also be needed for solutions to the big international conflicts and so we want to remain in dialogue,” Maas said.
Putin: ‘No new arms race’
The United States on March 15, 2018, imposed another round of sanctions on Russian entities and individuals over what Washington says was Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Amid severely strained ties, Putin said on March 19, 2018, that Russia wanted to build “constructive” relations with other countries but that “not everything depends on us.”
Russia will not “instigate some arms race” and “will spare no effort to settle all disputes with our partners by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said, adding that Moscow will always defend its own national interests.
The editor in chief of state-funded network RT, meanwhile, asserted that Western policies and attitudes had prompted Russians to unite around Putin and made him stronger than ever. She seemed to suggest he could remain in power indefinitely.
Railing against the West and praising Putin in a tirade on Twitter, Margarita Simonyan said that “as soon as you declared him the enemy, you united us” around Putin.
“Before, he was just our president and he could have been replaced. But now he is our chief,” she wrote, using a noun — “vozhd” — that is often associated with Stalin. “And we will not let [you] replace him.”
Putin and the seven dwarves
Putin’s comments about foreign ties came during a meeting with the other candidates, whom he called on to cooperate and “be guided by the long-term interests of Russia and the Russian people, always putting group or party preferences on the back burner.”
Putin’s record-high official result put him miles ahead of the seven others on the ballot, who Kremlin critics have said were window-dressing to create the illusion of competition.
The election commission said Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin was second with almost 12 percent, followed by flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with almost 6 percent and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak with about 1.7 percent.
The four other candidates — liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, nationalist Sergei Baburin, Communists of Russia candidate Maksim Suraikin, and centrist Boris Titov — had 1 percent apiece or less.
Speaking to reporters after a late-night rally on voting day, Putin suggested that he would not seek the presidency again in 2030 –when he would next be eligible because of a limit of two consecutive terms.
But he left the door open to a potential move to change the constitution in order to maintain power past 2024 in some capacity, saying only that he is “not planning any constitutional reforms for now.”
Reports of fraud
With help from state media, Putin is riding a wave of popularity on the fourth anniversary of Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and in the wake of a military intervention in Syria that has been played up on Russian television as a patriotic success.
But reports of fraud dogged the election. Independent monitor Golos received reports of nearly 3,000 alleged violations.
Sergei Shpilkin, a physicist and data analyst who has studied fraud in previous Russian elections, suggested that nearly 10 million “extra” votes — apparently all for Putin — may have been added through falsified turnout figures.
Voters were bussed to the polls in many places, according to supporters of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader barred from running in the election.
They also reported hundreds of cases of alleged voter fraud, notably in Moscow and St. Petersburg, two areas where Putin has relatively low support.
Some voters in various regions said they had been pressured by their employers or teachers to vote and take a photograph of themselves at the polling station as evidence of their participation.
While official turnout was robust even in Moscow, where it has often been lower than in the provinces, there was palpable apathy at some polling stations.
Some Russians said they felt powerless to influence politics in a country dominated by Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999.
“There is no real choice,” said 20-year-old Yevgeny Kiva, who was paid by a local election committee to wear a clown suit and dance with children at a polling station in Moscow.
Navalny, who has organized large street protests and alleged extravagant corruption among the ruling elite, was barred from the ballot because of a conviction on embezzlement charges he contends were fabricated by the Kremlin.
South Korea announced April 23, 2018, it has halted its propaganda broadcasts, which it blasts from speakers along the Korean border, in preparation of a highly-anticipated summit between President Moon Jae In and Kim Jong Un.
South Korea’s defense ministry announced in a statement it would pause its radio program in order to “reduce military tensions between the South and North and create the mood of peaceful talks.”
“We hope this decision will lead both Koreas to stop mutual criticism and propaganda against each other and also contribute in creating peace and a new beginning,” the defense ministry said.
South Korea’s pausing of the program would be the first time it has done so in two years.
South Korea’s propaganda program has used giant loudspeakers periodically since the Korean War but has become more subtle in recent years, according to the BBC. The system is used as a type of psychological warfare against North Korea, and broadcasts news, criticism of the Kim regime, and even K-Pop music across the border in hopes of spreading information and spurring North Koreans to defect.
North Korea also has its own loudspeaker system along the border, although defense officials told Reuters they could not verify whether North Korea had ended their broadcasts though their volume was softened ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The high-level inter-Korean summit is set to take place in the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.
The Korean leaders have held talks only twice since the end of the Korean War which has led to decades of tension between the two nations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Every few years you pick up your life leaving your friends and all that has become familiar to follow the love of your life to a new duty station. PCS…
No matter how many times you move, that same excitement and crazy anxiety to start all over again appears. It is so easy to lose yourself in chaos.
The chaos of getting things settled, finding a job, or just trying to find that normal day to day for your kids!
Starting over is never easy.
Everything is so foreign no matter how much research you do. It is easy to fall into the shadow of the military world around you or just that mom-life, forgetting just who you are. Being able to establish yourself from scratch takes a lot out of you especially when you do it over and over again.
It is easy to say the last place you were was the best. But really each new place is what you make of it.
Finding yourself, or in other words, allowing yourself to bloom is key to thriving in a new place.
But the question is where do you even start? Who are you or who do you want to be?
Being a military spouse or a parent makes up just one tiny piece of that. A new duty station gives you the opportunity for improvements and new goals.
You always wanted to open up your own business, well now is your opportunity.
Take the leap and start taking college courses. Get your degree!
Find your voice again by advocating for your new community.
Just because you are putting down temporary roots does not mean you have to give up on you and what you want! There are many different programs offered at every duty station to help you thrive. From classes on networking, and job assistance to educational resources and volunteer programs. These things put into place to help you benefit yourself.
Mask your fears and try something new.
Do not hide out counting down the days until you move again.
Join the gym, or go to a playgroup with your kids.
Meet new people, you never know when you will find those lifelong friends. You should feel confident in yourself and all that you do or want to do.
Nothing should hold you back from you being exactly who you aspire to be. You only have one life so make each place you live the best.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
Provisions allowing Guard members to transfer some or all of their Post- 9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouse or children are set to change, limiting the timeframe soldiers and airmen can transfer those benefits.
“You have to have a minimum of six years [in service] in order to be eligible to transfer benefits, and after 16 years you’re no longer eligible,” said Don Sutton, GI Bill program manager with the Army National Guard, describing the changes set to go into effect July 12, 2019.
The six-years-of-service rule isn’t new, said Sutton.
“You’ve always had to have a minimum of six years of service in order to transfer your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits,” he said, adding the big change is the cutoff at 16 years of service.
“You’ll have a 10-year-window in which to transfer benefits,” he said, stressing that Guard members won’t lose the benefits after 16 years of service, just the ability to transfer them to their spouse, children or other dependents.
Soldiers and airmen from the Arizona National Guard.
“The Post-9/11 GI Bill and the transfer of benefits are two entirely different and separate programs,” said Sutton. “Even though soldiers may be ineligible to transfer benefits, they still have the Post-9/11 for their own use.”
For those interested in transferring their benefits, an additional four-year service obligation is still required.
“The [transfer of benefits] is a retention incentive,” said Sutton. “It’s designed to keep people in the service.”
Being able to transfer benefits to a dependent may have been perceived by some service members as an entitlement, said Sutton, adding that was one of the reasons for the timeframe change.
“In law, transferring those benefits has always been designed as a retention incentive,” he said.
The exact number of Guard members who may be impacted by the change wasn’t available, said Sutton, adding that among those who could be affected are those who didn’t qualify for Post- 9/11 GI Bill benefits until later in their career.
“We do have a small population of soldiers who are over 16 years [of service] before they did their first deployment,” he said.
Some Guard members who may have earned the benefits early on, but didn’t have dependents until later in their careers, may also be affected.
“They joined at 18 and now they’re 15, 16 years in and they get married or have kids later on in life,” said Sutton, who urged Guard members who plan on transferring their benefits to do so as soon as they are eligible.
“If you wait, you’re potentially going to miss out,” he said.
Some Guard members may have been waiting to transfer the benefits until their children reach college age.
Spc. Sabrina Day, 132nd Military Police Company, South Carolina National Guard, with her three-year-old son, Blake.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brad Mincey)
“There sometimes are some misconceptions that they have to wait until their kids are college age or that they’re high school seniors in order to do the transfer,” said Sutton, adding there is no age requirement to transfer Post-9/ 11 benefits to dependent children.
“As soon as a child is born and registered in DEERS [Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System], you can transfer,” he said.
After that transfer has been completed, Guard members can still make changes to how those benefits are divided between dependents or which dependent receives those benefits.
“Once the transfer is executed, and you’ve agreed to that service obligation, you can add dependents in, and you can move months around between dependents,” said Sutton. “It’s just that initial transfer has to be done before you hit 16 years of service.”
However, there is one group of Guard members who will not be affected by any of the changes: those who have received the Purple Heart since Sept. 11, 2001.
“The only rule around transferring benefits that applies [to those individuals] is you have to still be in the service to transfer them.”
Regardless of status, Sutton reiterated that Guard members are better off transferring those benefits sooner rather than later.
“Transfer as soon as you’re eligible,” he said. “Don’t miss the boat because you’ve been eligible for 10 years and you just didn’t do it.”
Federal authorities are investigating dozens of new cases of possible opioid and other drug theft by employees at Veterans Affairs hospitals, a sign the problem isn’t going away as more prescriptions disappear.
Data obtained by The Associated Press show 36 criminal investigations opened by the VA inspector general’s office from Oct. 1 through May 19. It brings the total number of open criminal cases to 108 involving theft or unauthorized drug use. Most of those probes typically lead to criminal charges.
The numbers are an increase from a similar period in the previous year. The VA has pledged “zero tolerance” in drug thefts following an AP story in February about a sharp rise in reported cases of stolen or missing drugs at the VA since 2009. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff in the VA’s network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics are suspected of siphoning away controlled substances for their own use or street sale — sometimes to the harm of patients — or drugs simply vanished without explanation.
Drug thefts are a growing problem at private hospitals as well as the government-run VA as the illegal use of opioids has increased in the United States. But separate data from the Drug Enforcement Administration obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act show the rate of reported missing drugs at VA health facilities was more than double that of the private sector. DEA investigators cited in part a larger quantity of drugs kept in stock at the bigger VA medical centers to treat a higher volume of patients, both outpatient and inpatient, and for distribution of prescriptions by mail.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla., said AP’s findings were “troubling.” He urged Congress to pass bipartisan accountability legislation he was co-sponsoring that would give the agency “the tools needed to dismiss employees engaged in misconduct.” The Senate is set to vote on the bill June 6.
“The theft and misuse of prescription drugs, including opioids, by some VA employees is a good example of why we need greater accountability at the VA,” Rubio said.
In February, the VA announced efforts to combat drug thefts, including employee drug tests and added inspections. Top VA officials in Washington led by VA Secretary David Shulkin pledged to be more active, holding conference calls with health facilities to develop plans and reviewing data to flag problems. The department said it would consider more internal audits.
Criminal investigators said it was hard to say whether new safeguards are helping.
“Prescription drug diversion is a multifaceted, egregious health care issue,” said Jeffrey Hughes, the acting VA assistant inspector general for investigations. “Veterans may be denied necessary medications or their proper dosage and medical records may contain false information to hide the diversion, further putting veterans’ health at risk.”
Responding, the VA said it was working to develop additional policies “to improve drug safety and reduce drug theft and diversion across the entire health care system.”
“We have security protocols in place and will continue to work hard to improve it,” Poonam Alaigh, VA’s acting undersecretary for health, told the AP.
In one case, a registered nurse in the Spinal Cord Injury Ward at the VA medical center in Richmond, Virginia, was recently sentenced after admitting to stealing oxycodone tablets and fentanyl patches from VA medication dispensers. The nurse said she would sometimes shortchange the amount of pain medication prescribed to patients, taking the remainder to satisfy her addiction.
Hughes cited in particular the risk of patient harm. “Health care providers who divert for personal use may be providing care while under the influence of narcotics,” he said.
AP’s story in February had figures documenting the sharp rise in drug thefts at federal hospitals, most of them VA facilities. Subsequently released DEA data provide more specific details of the problem at the VA. Drug losses or theft increased from 237 in 2009 to 2,844 in 2015, before dipping to 2,397 last year. In only about 3 percent of those cases have doctors, nurses or pharmacy employees been disciplined, according to VA data.
At private hospitals, reported drug losses or theft also rose — from 2,023 in 2009 to 3,185 in 2015, before falling slightly to 3,154 last year. There is a bigger pool of private U.S. hospitals, at least 4,369, according to the American Hospital Association. That means the rate of drug loss or theft is lower than VA’s.
The VA inspector general’s office said it had opened 25 cases in the first half of the budget year that began Oct. 1. That is up from 21 in the same period in 2016.
The IG’s office said the number of newly opened criminal probes had previously been declining since 2014.
Michael Glavin, an IT specialist at the VA, says he’s heard numerous employee complaints of faulty VA technical systems that track drug inventories, leading to errors and months of delays in identifying when drugs go missing. Prescription drug shipments aren’t always fully inventoried when they arrive at a VAfacility, he said, making it difficult to determine if a drug was missing upon arrival or stolen later.
“It’s still the same process,” said Glavin, who heads the local union at the VA medical center in Columbia, Missouri. The union’s attorney, Natalie Khawam, says whistleblowers at other VA hospitals have made similar complaints.
Criminal investigators stressed the need for a continuing drug prevention effort. The VA points to inventory checks every 72 hours and “double lock and key access” to drugs. It attributes many drug loss cases to reasons other than employee theft, such as drugs lost in transit. But the DEA says some of those cases may be wrongly classified.
“Inventories are always an issue as to who’s watching or checking it,” said Tom Prevoznik, a DEA deputy chief of pharmaceutical investigations. “What are the employees doing, and who’s watching them?”
The US Navy caught a Russian destroyer on video nearly colliding with a US warship in a dangerous close encounter at sea.
The Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov closed with the US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville on June 7, 2019, putting the sailors on board at risk, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The US Navy says the Russian vessel engaged in “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct at sea. Specifically, it “maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville, accelerated, and closed to an unsafe distance of approximately 50-100 feet.”
The Russians are telling a different story, accusing the US Navy of suddenly changing course and cutting across the path of its destroyer. The US Navy has videos of the incident to back its narrative.
(1/2) USS Chancellorsville Avoids Collision with Russian Destroyer Udaloy I DD 572
Naval affairs expert Bryan Clark offered some clarity on just how risky this situation is, explaining that 50 feet to 100 feet for a destroyer is comparable to being inches from another car while barreling down the freeway.
“It’s really dangerous,” he told Business Insider. “Unlike a car, a ship doesn’t have brakes. So the only way you can slow down is by throwing it into reverse. It’s going to take time to slow down because the friction of the water is, of course, a lot less than the friction of the road. Your stopping distance is measured in many ship lengths.”
“When someone pulls a maneuver like that,” Clark added, “It’s really hard to slow down or stop or maneuver quickly to avoid the collision.”
(2/2) USS Chancellorsville Avoids Collision with Russian Destroyer Udaloy I DD 572
The Russian version of the story is that the US ship is to blame.
“The US guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed course and cut across the path of the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov coming within 50 meters of the ship,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. “A protest over the international radio frequency was made to the commanders of the American ship who were warned about the unacceptable nature of such actions.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.