When the Red Army crossed the border into Finland in 1939, along with them came a battalion of remote-controlled tanks, controlled by another tank some 1000 meters behind them. Along with the usual heavy armaments, the tank drones shot fire from flamethrowers, smoke grenades, and some were even dropping ticking time bombs, just waiting to get close to their target.
It’s a surprising technological feat for a country that had only just recently undergone a wave of modernization.
The Soviets had this remote technology in its pocket for a decade, having first tested the tanks on a Soviet T-18 in the early 1930s. While the earliest models were controlled with a very long wire, the USSR was soon able to upgrade to a more combat-friendly radio remote. By the time the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Red Army had two battalions of the drones, which it called teletanks. At this time, the teletank technology was in Soviet T-26 tanks, called the Titan TT-26, and there was a big list of tanks, ships, and aircraft on which the Soviets wanted to equip with tele-tech.
Unfortunately, the TT-26 wasn’t able to fully participate in the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War. In the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was able to destroy the vast majority of the Red Army’s TT-26 teletanks. In the months that followed, it proved to be more economical and timely to produce a regular version of the T-26 and man them with human crews.
T-20 Komsomolets Teletanks
It would have been unlikely that the teletank technology would have made the difference on the Eastern Front of World War II anyway. They were notoriously unreliable in unfamiliar terrain and were easily stopped by tank spikes. If a teletank managed to outpace the range of its controller, it simply stopped and did nothing. The Soviets mitigated this by mining the hatches of the tanks, but an inoperative tank is still not very useful to the Allied cause.
Eventually, the USSR’s remaining teletanks were converted to conventional tanks in order to join the fight against the Nazis. Perhaps the emerging technology of the time was an interesting aside for military planners before the war, but the fun and games must stop when you have to start fighting for survival.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is known for its baller tech, from helping to invent the internet and Google Maps to developing artificial intelligence and drone swarms. For the last few years, they’ve been looking into how to make vehicles safer in combat without strapping ever-increasing amounts of armor to it.
Demonstrations of DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technologies
The Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) Program is largely complete, and it’s archived on DARPA’s website. Most of the tech has proven itself in the lab and testing, but now some will—and some won’t—get deployed to units over the next few years.
One of the more exciting and groundbreaking technologies is the Multi-mode Extreme Travel Suspension. This equips vehicles with a suspension that can raise wheels 30 inches or drop them 42 inches, and each tire is controlled separately. That means that a vehicle can drive with an even cab, even when the slope is so great that the wheels are separate in height by six feet. It also means that the vehicles can get to hard-to-reach places quickly.
Other tech breakthroughs looking to increase off-road mobility included the Electric In-Hub Motor—which crams an entire electric motor with a three-speed gearbox and cooling into a standard 20-inch rim—and the Reconfigurable Wheel-Track which can roll like a normal tire or turn into a triangular track that works like a mini-tank tread.
But there are also breakthroughs focused on getting rid of windows and making crews able to move faster and more safely. The Virtual Perspective Augmenting Natural Experience program allowed vehicle crew members to drive a windowless RV with better visibility than a normal driver. Not only can they see what would be visible from the vehicle thanks to LIDAR, but they could also “see” the environment from a remote perspective.
Basically, they could be their own ground guide.
The Off-Road Crew Augmentation program, meanwhile, draws an estimated safest path for drivers moving off-road, and it can do so with no windows facing out. That means vehicle designers can create a next-gen vehicle with no windows, historically a weak spot in the armor. Ultraviolet light from the sun slowly breaks down ballistic glass, so “bulletproof” windows aren’t really bulletproof and will eventually expire.
All of the major breakthroughs were part of research partnerships or contracts with different manufacturers, and it remains to be seen whether the military branches will request prototype vehicles that use the tech. But there’s a chance that your next ride, after the current iteration of the JLTV, will be something a little more exotic.
Peter R. Asks: If I had to, what parts of my body are healthiest to eat and offer the most caloric benefit? Essentially, what parts of me should I eat first to maximize my survival chances in some extreme situation? Would eating feces be of any benefit?
While of course how long one could survive without food and water varies dramatically based on exact scenario, on the more pressing issue of water, it would appear that if someone stopped consuming this life sustaining liquid at all (including not getting any from food), their death would generally occur within a maximum of about 14 days. This grim figure has been gleaned from data collected from the notes of terminally ill or end of life patients in hospitals who forgo artificial sustenance and their bodies are slowly allowed to die. In many of these cases, the individual is either bedridden or in a coma, meaning their caloric and water needs are potentially minimized, so this seems a good rough upper limit.
Unfortunately for our thoroughly average 5 ft. 9 inch, 195.5 pound everyman named Jeff, who is about to find himself in rather dire straits, death for him is likely to occur much faster. Beyond the fact that he’s likely to be more active than a person in a coma, these figures don’t necessarily immediately apply to him because of something known as adaptive thermogenesis. Adaptive thermogenesis is the term used to describe a unique quirk of physiology, which is often colloquially referred to as “starvation mode”. In a massively overly simplistic nutshell sure to trigger more than one medical professional out there, when the body is put on a restrictive diet for a significant length of time, it adapts to function less optimally, but at least still function, lowering the sustenance requirements it needs in a variety of fascinating ways that would take an entire video of its own to cover.
Since terminally ill people and people in comas are typically already in this state when their sustenance is completely cut off, their bodies will, in some cases at least, likely survive longer than poor Jeff who, if he was randomly cut off from sustenance without warning in a survival situation would probably not make it more than about 3-4 days.
Of course, Jeff could last longer if he ate something because many foods contain quite a lot of water, his most pressing need. While body parts are among those food items that are jam-packed with H20, that liquid was already in Jeff anyway. So there is going to be no benefit to consuming his own body part in this situation, unless of course the limb just happened to have gotten lopped off outside of his control and he wants to recoup what he can from the lost appendage.
But let’s say that Jeff has an unlimited supply of water. Now he just needs some food, which the human body is literally made up of. Thus, Jeff targets those sweet, sweet calories within himself.
How many calories? Figures on this can vary wildly based on the individual in question as you might expect, but for a ballpark average for such an everyman as Jeff, he probably has about 80,000 calories in him, at least, according to figures compiled by one Dr. James Cole at the University of Brighton.
As for the legs, again with the caveat that this can vary wildly based on a specific individual, for a ballpark average, each leg contains around 7,000-8,000 calories (enough to sustain Jeff comfortably for around three and a half days).
If Jeff got really desperate he could cut off one of his arms which would net him an additional 2,000 or so calories. Another day of comfortable eating.
Since he needs that other arm to perform surgeries, cook, eat, etc., let’s say Jeff, who is also now an expert surgeon, also removes a lung, a kidney, 70% of his liver, his gallbladder, his appendix, spleen and his testicles (all things that can removed from the body without killing you if done properly). We stopped just short of calculating the caloric value of a human penis because, come on, we have to leave Jeff something to do the rest of the day while he awaits rescue.
Based on available figures from the aforementioned British professor and, where needed, supplementing his calorie content numbers with animals with comparable organs to our own, this would all provide roughly 3,000 or so calories, give or take.
Finally, if Jeff took the bones from his severed limbs and boiled them in water, he could create something akin to bone broth, which contains about 130 calories per litre. It turns out that you can make about a gallon of bone broth with around 7 pounds of bones.
Your skeleton makes up about 15% of your total body weight and your legs and a single arm constitute just shy of 40% of your total weight. Taking Jeff’s weight which we’ve already established as being 195.5 pounds, Jeff’s legs and arm would provide around 12 pounds of bone, or enough to make a gallon and a half of bone broth. This amounts to in the ballpark of 900 calories.
Being resourceful, Jeff isn’t going to stop at limbs, organs, and bone, though. After all, a byproduct of eating produces another food source- feces. Unfortunately, there’s no study that has been done that we could find telling us definitively the calorific content of human poop. That said, from limited studies we did find on human poop’s nutritional makeup, and from many more done on mice feces, it would appear on average feces contains about 10% of the calories eaten previously, with the caveat that this does vary based on a variety of factors- work with us here people. If you want a better number for the calories in human feces when that human is eating human legs, arms, and organs, you feel free to Google to your heart’s content. We’re already a little uncomfortable with how our search history looks after this one.
In any event, if Jeff consumed in the ballpark of the 2000-2500 calories per day to maintain his original physique before he found himself in his little predicament, his poop may contain as many as 250 calories. Contrary to popular belief, his poop would also be reasonably safe to eat provided he kept it fairly sanitary after squeezing it out — the five second rule isn’t really a thing. A dropped turd is most definitely going to pick up some icky things from the floor.
So, doing the math, if Jeff literally cut off or removed every extraneous part of his body save for a single arm, then ate his excrement, he could conceivably find himself with a total of around 20,000-22,000 or so calories, or around 10 days of comfortable sustenance. And, hey, with the loss of each extra body part, there’s fewer calories needed to support the remaining, meaning Jeff’s going to be able to stretch things out even further in this little fantasy land we’ve created.
Of course, in a real life scenario, slicing yourself up would by definition do severe damage to your body, expose yourself to infection, result in a loss of blood and hence reduce your hydration level, and just generally place a lot more demands on your body to keep on keeping on- when traumatically injured, your nutritional needs actually go up.
And, in the end, your body already had you covered.
You see, it turns out beyond attempting to get more efficient about caloric usage naturally if you stop giving the body enough to function optimally, the human body is also amazingly efficient at using stored sustenance in your various bits, particularly fat, muscle, and, to a lesser extent, bone. Sure, at the end of it, Jeff’s body fat percentage might be on the lean side and his lifts on the bench press may be vastly reduced from their former no doubt beast-mode levels. But he’ll be alive and whole anyway.
Thus, as with so many of life’s problems, the solution was inside himself all along… including the feces and urine which could potentially give a very slight benefit the first time if he wanted to muscle them down.
Cats are apt to perch wherever they please — on your keyboard, atop the refrigerator, or squished into a box. But a cat on top of a submarine is unexpected, to say the least.
Military Giant Cats (@ GiantCat9 on Twitter) is a bizarre Twitter account that’s exactly what it sounds like — photos of giant cats on top of, playing with, or stalking various militaries or weapons systems.
The account’s creator, a person who identified himself as Thomas, told Insider, “I started this weird account because I love the absurdity of [the] internet, I love the cats, I worked several years in the defense industry.”
“A lot of people send me [cat] pics in the DM,” Thomas told Insider via Twitter direct message. He then Photoshops the cats onto airplanes, submarines, battlefields, and tanks, much to the delight of the account’s 29,000 followers.
Take a look at these felines on fighter jets in the next slides.
The short segments (each one is about five minutes) star characters from some of the year’s most popular children’s shows, like Super Monsters and Boss Baby, and end with a countdown to 2019.
And this year, Netflix is offering an even greater variety of countdowns for parents to choose from, including options for older kids and tweens. In 2018, there were only nine New Year’s specials, five fewer than this year’s record-high of 14.
Netflix’s annual tradition is backed by recent research, too. According to a statement made by the streaming service, “77% of U.S. parents actually prefer to stay in than go out for the biggest bash of the year.” The company added that over the last five years, an average of five million people watch the New Year’s Eve countdown shows each year.
To find the popular holiday specials, which are usually available through the first week of January, parents can simply enter “countdowns” in the Netflix search bar.
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.
A new tweak to Marine Corps policy will reduce paperwork for re-enlisting Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve who have tattoos that fall outside regulations.
The change was shared late March 2018 with career planners and recruiters who work with prior-service Marines, said Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs. It came via a total force retention system, or TFRS, message, used to share policy updates pertaining to recruiting and retention.
While rules governing when exceptions can be made to tattoo standards aren’t changing, the way cases involving tattoos that fall outside guidelines are processed is.
Previously, a Marine in the Individual Ready Reserve looking to go back on active duty would have to complete a tattoo screening request, endorsed by Marine Corps Headquarters, for any undocumented tattoos that don’t comply with policy.
Now, he or she can simply submit a Page 11 administrative counseling form related to the tattoos. Any tattoos that have not been documented during prior service, have not been grandfathered in according to regulations, and fall outside current guidelines require a Page 11 form. This would be created, Carlock said, when a Marine in the Individual Ready Reserve visited a recruiter to begin the process for return to active duty.
“They said, ‘Let’s reduce that back-and-forth. Just send me the Page 11,'” Carlock said. “That was what this message was. Let’s streamline it.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Keith)
The change is not, however, the more-lenient tattoo policy that some hoped for.
After receiving the TFRS message, one recruiter made a public post on Facebook announcing newly relaxed policy standards.
“There is no telling how long this is good for but at this moment we can bring “out of regs” Marines to the reserves … this may be the chance to update your training records (promotion) get on some Tricare, make some money, and earn some points towards retirement!!” the recruiter wrote.
That post has since been removed; Carlock said it was erroneous.
“There was no change to tattoo policy. There was a change to the process,” she said.
In a December 2017, interview, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com he had no plans to relax the current policy. Marines are still not allowed to get full sleeve tattoos, and there are size limits on tattoos that wrap an arm or leg. Tattoos on the neck, face and hands are also all out.
The most recent tattoo policy change was made in 2016, under Neller. It eased up on some regulations, allowing Marines to get “wedding ring” finger tattoos, and clarified other guidelines. It also gave Marines 120 days to get noncompliant tattoos documented in their personnel file.
Since then, Carlock said, no active-duty Marines have been forced out of service as a result of their tattoos.
“If the recruiters came to me and said, ‘We can’t make mission with this [tattoo] policy,’ I would have to go back and look,” Neller said.
But, he added, that hasn’t happened so far.
“This is not an episode of [History Channel show] Vikings, where we’re tattooing our face,” Neller said in the December 2017, interview. “We’re not a biker gang, we’re not a rock-and-roll band. We’re not [Maroon 5 lead singer] Adam Levine.”
Army scientists have been working on a canine-like robot that’s designed to take commands from soldiers, much like real military working dogs.
The Legged Locomotion and Movement Adaptation (LLAMA) robot is an Army Research Laboratory effort to design and demonstrate a near-fully autonomous robot capable of going anywhere a soldier can go.
The program is distinctly different from an effort the Marine Corps jointly undertook with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in 2010 to develop a four-legged mule robot to take equipment off the backs of Marines in field, officials from the Army Research Laboratory said.
It’s much more similar to Marine Corps research efforts around Spot, a four-legged hydraulic prototype designed for infantry teaming.
“We wanted to get something closer to a working dog for the soldier; we wanted it to be able to go into places where a soldier would go, like inside buildings,” Jason Pusey, a mechanical engineer at ARL, told Military.com.
(CCDC Army Research Laboratory)
“It’s supposed to be a soldier’s teammate, so we wanted to have a platform, so the soldier could tell the robot to go into the next building and get me the book bag and bring it back to me. That building might be across the battlefield, or it might have complex terrain that it has to cover because we want the robot to do it completely autonomously.”
The LLAMA effort began more than two years ago through the Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance Program, a research effort intended to study concepts for highly intelligent unmanned robots.
“In the beginning we had a lot of wheeled and tracked systems, but we were looking at some unique mobility capabilities … and toward the end we decided we wanted something that we could incorporate a lot of this intelligence on a [robot] that had increased mobility beyond wheels and tracks,” Pusey said.
Army modernization officials have been working to develop autonomous platforms, but one of the major challenges has been teaching them how to negotiate obstacles on complex terrain.
“We picked … the legged platform, because when we get to an area where the soldier actually has to dismount from the vehicle and continue on through its mission that is the point where the legs become more relevant,” Pusey said.
Working with organizations such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Institute for Human Machine Cognition, ARL has developed a LLAMA prototype that’s able to take verbal commands and move independently across terrain to accomplish tasks, Pusey said.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Command Army Research Laboratory developed the Legged Locomotion and Movement Adaptation, or LLAMA, as part of the lab’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance.
(U.S. Army photo by Jim Nelson)
“We wanted it to be very intelligent, so the soldier’s head doesn’t have to be down and looking at a screen,” Pusey said. “Similar to a working dog, we wanted it to be able to go across the way, get into the building, grab the bag and bring it back.”
“Right now, when we tell it to go across the rubble pile and to traverse the path, we are not joy-sticking it. It does it by itself.”
Program officials have been working to input automatic thinking into the LLAMA. With that capability, it wouldn’t have to think about the mechanics of running or avoiding an obstacle in its path any more than a human does.
Digital maps of the terrain the robot will operate on, along with specially identified objects, are stored in internal controllers that guide the dog’s thinking, said Geoffrey Slipher, chief of the Autonomous Systems Division.
“You can say, ‘go to the third barrel on the left,’ and it would know what you mean,” Slipher said.
If the map doesn’t have objects identified, operators could tell LLAMA to go to a specific map position.
“It would go there and it would use its sensors as it goes a long to map the environment and classify objects as it goes, so then you would have that information later on to refer to,” Slipher said.
“As a research platform, we are not looking at it maximizing range and endurance or any of these parameters; the objective of the design of this vehicle was to allow it to perform the functions as a research platform for long enough so we could answer questions, like how this or other autonomous systems would perform in the field.”
The Legged Locomotion and Movement Adaptation, or LLAMA, is the embodiment of the program’s research efforts in the area of advancements in autonomous off-road mobility.
(U.S. Army photo by Jim Nelson)
Pusey tried to relate the effort to trying to teach instinctive human reactions.
“If you slip on a step, what do you do? You normally will flail out your arms and try to grab for railings to save yourself, so you don’t damage a limb,” he said. “With a robot, we have to teach it that it’s slippery; you have to quickly step again or grab something. How do you kind of instill these inherent fundamental ideas into the robot is what we are trying to research.”
The LLAMA is also battery-powered, making it much quieter than Marine Corps’ Legged Squad Support System, Pusey said.
“One of the problems with the LS3 in the past was it … had a gas-powered engine, so it was loud and it had a huge thermal signature, which the Marines didn’t like,” he said, describing how the LLAMA has a very small thermal signature.
Despite the progress, it’s still uncertain if the LLAMA, in its current form, will one day work with soldiers since the research effort is scheduled to end in December.
“We are in the mode of this program is ending and what are we going to do next,” Pusey said. “There are multiple directions we can go but we haven’t quite finalized that plan yet.”
Currently, the Army has no requirement for a legged robot like LLAMA, Slipher said.
“One of the objectives of the follow-on research will be to study concepts of operation for these types of vehicles to help the senior leadership understand intuitively how a platform like this might or might not be useful,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family,” reads the Spartan Pledge, a new initiative started by Cutler.
The pledge started between Cutler and his battle buddy Nacho who served in Iraq with him. They lost touch after the military, but were brought together after Nacho’s friend – who was also a veteran – committed suicide.
The Spartan pledge was created after they both admitted to each other of having suicidal thoughts and not talking about it. Realizing the disproportional suicide rate among veterans, Cutler started engaging other war buddies with his pledge starting a viral effect.
According to Boone, the pledge ensures that veterans take care of themselves, take care of their own, and maintain a mission focus.
Here’s Boone’s video. He requests that you please pass it along.
NOW: This disabled veteran describes his scars of war with incredible slam poetry. Watch the video
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. March Tighe, 60th Maintenance Squadron gives a briefing to Dr. Richard Joseph, Chief Scientist of the United States Air Force, Washington, D.C., during his visit to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., July 12, 2018. Joseph toured David Grant USAF Medical Center, Phoenix Spark lab and visited with Airmen. Joseph serves as the chief scientific adviser to the Chief of Staff and Secretary of the AF, and provides assessments on a wide range of scientific and technical issues affecting the AF mission. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // LOUIS BRISCESE)
Senior U.S. Air Force leaders are embracing and promoting the concept that if their Airmen are not failing, then they are, more than likely, not moving forward.
They believe pushing the envelope is necessary to keep the U.S. Air Force dominant and the occasional failure should be viewed by supervisors not as a negative, but as part of a greater positive.
In this series, we hear senior Air Force leaders give examples of how taking calculated risks and failing throughout their careers taught them valuable lessons, propelled them to future success and made them better leaders.
Dr. Richard J. Joseph, Air Force chief scientist, believes failure is a necessary component and result of the scientific method. The failures of ideas and theories, when tested through experimentation and prototyping, inform, and are often the root of, future successes.
However, he also believes that project failures are often rooted in past successes of large technological bureaucracies. Large organizations with far-reaching strategic plans often stifle the creativity, experimentation and risk acceptance necessary to achieve game-changing technological advances.
Dr. Richard J. Joseph, Chief Scientist of the U.S. Air Force, looks through virtual reality goggles at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Nov. 29, 2018. The harness training was a requirement before flying on a B-52 Stratofortress with the 20th Bomb Squadron. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN PHILIP BRYANT)
Joseph serves as the chief scientific adviser to the chief of staff and secretary of the Air Force, and provides assessments on a wide range of scientific and technical issues affecting the Air Force mission. He has more than 40 years of experience as a physicist, directed energy researcher, senior program manager, national security advisor and executive.
DR. WILL ROPER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE FOR ACQUISITION, TECHNOLOGY AND LOGISTICS
As the Air Force’s Service Acquisition Executive, Dr. Will Roper oversees Air Force research, development and acquisition activities with a combined annual budget in excess of billion for more than 465 acquisition programs.
He promotes the concept of “Fail Fast, Fail Forward” as a foundational culture shift necessary to keep the U.S. Air Force dominant.
This philosophy is manifested in his promotion of rapid prototyping and funding innovative ideas through Air Force Pitch Day and AFWERX’s Spark Tank.
Roper believes that by spending money to develop fledgling technologies and ideas quickly, and then prototyping them rapidly, flaws are found much earlier in the development process.
Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, speaks to a crowd of small businesses, venture capitalists, and Airmen during the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day in Manhattan, New York, March 7, 2019. Air Force Pitch Day is designed as a fast-track program to put companies on one-page contracts and same-day awards with the swipe of a government credit card. The Air Force is partnering with small businesses to help further national security in air, space and cyberspace. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // TECH SGT. ANTHONY NELSON JR.)
This method avoids committing to the huge cost of the much longer traditional system and weapons development and acquisition where flaws are only found years and hundreds of millions of dollars later. Then the Air Force is stuck with that flawed system for decades.
However, in order for “Fail Fast, Fail Forward” to work, Roper believes the Air Force must adjust its attitude towards risk.
He points out that his own success actually points to a persistent flaw in the Air Force’s tolerance for risk – people are only rewarded for taking a risk that pays off. Roper insists that to foster an innovative culture, people must be rewarded for taking a good risk in the first place.
“Why are the people who succeed the only people we cite when we talk about risk taking as a virtue?” Roper said. “I’m trying to be very mindful with Air Force program managers and people taking risk that they get their evaluation and validation for me at the point that they take the risk.”
The ongoing conflict between the citizens of these two nations has become, in our time, the textbook case of intractability in human coexistence, an example of the kind of horizonless mistrust that pits neighbor against neighbor in enmity over a mutually claimed homeland.
Say what you will, this kid has got balls. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
…in general, there is no meeting between them. It’s not something normal between Israeli and Palestinian people. There is a fear, there is a stereotype…both sides lost their humanity in the other side’s eyes. —Mohammed Judah, NEF Staff
Extremism for any cause make us strangers to our own humanity. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
How does one begin to help unbind this locked, loaded, boundary-straining situation? What universal balm exists to cool the friction between these factions?
Could it, perhaps, be food?
There is an organization — the Near East Foundation — that thinks so. And what’s more, given the industrial preoccupation of this region of the world (read: petrolium), this organization is prepared to make its theory even more audacious. NEF thinks the answer could be found in oil: olive oil.
Meet Olive Oil Without Borders. At the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the West Bank, this USAID-funded project seeks to bring olive farmers from both sides together. Mutual economic benefit is the primary goal. NEF consultants teach best practices in cultivation, harvest, and olive oil production without regard for politics and for the good of the region as a whole.
And by coming together around a mutual interest, and perhaps sharing the fruits of their labors, Israelis and Palestinians may, slowly, gently, come to trust in each other’s humanity.
In Part 1 of its two part finale, Meals Ready To Eat journeys to the Middle East to witness the struggle between divisive conflict and unifying food culture.
As anyone who’s ever deployed to a war zone knows, there’s no better cork for your ass than a meal at Uncle Sam’s House of Field Rations. This was a fact long denied by the Combat Feeding Directorate of the U.S. Army Soldier Research and Development center in Natick, Massachusetts. But a recent study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry set out to prove us troops right.
That probably wasn’t actually the reason for starting the study, but the end result is the same.
There are a lot of myths and urban legends surrounding MREs. They’re a fascinating feat of culinary engineering, after all. Anything that will still be good to eat three years after it’s made is something magical. So it’s no wonder these meals have so many myths and urban legends surrounding them.
First, there’s the one about how eating them for more than 20 days in a row could kill you. That’s a myth. Then there’s the one about turning them into a weapon using the tabasco sauce and the heater, which is also a myth. Finally, there’s the one about how they’re designed to make the eater constipated to keep them from having to go while on an operation and how the gum is a laxative to use when the op is over. Both are myths.
Except the the one about blocking up the works. That’s real, but not for any reason except they physically alter your bowels, according to the study.
The study, called “A diet of U.S. military food rations alters gut microbiota composition and does not increase intestinal permeability,” used 60 volunteers, both military and civilian who were tested via feces, blood, and urine samples. Half ate only MREs two to three times a day while the other half ate normal meals with a similar number of calories. They were both only allowed to drink water and black coffee. Three weeks later, the results were in.
The MRE eaters reported one fewer bowel movement per week than the regular food group. The reason is that the MRE doesn’t promote the growth of stomach bacteria that fresh foods have, especially lactic acid bacterias, while promoting bacterias that actively prevent the smooth moves human beings are accustomed to. But even though the participants ate the MREs for longer than the dreaded 20 day threshold (remember the myth that 21 days of MREs would kill you?) participants’ bowel habits went right back to normal as soon as their food went back to normal.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lauren Parsons)
If you’re experiencing some gastrointestinal distress, before or after your MRE experience, the reason may be that you just need some fresh food in your diet. Americans don’t drink enough water, and they definitely don’t get enough fiber, by and large, according to Dr. J. Phillip Karl, the study’s author.
So have some water and some yogurt and get back in the fight – as soon as you get off the throne.