Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast - We Are The Mighty
Articles

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

Even peacetime training has its hazards, and that has been demonstrated with reports that an AH-64 Apache with the Texas National Guard crashed Dec. 28 in Galveston Bay, killing both crewmembers.


According to a report by KHOU.com, the helicopter was with the 1-149 Attack Helicopter Battalion of the Texas Army National Guard.

 

“It is with our deepest sympathy that we tell you both service members on board the air craft are deceased, our thoughts and prayers are with their family,” CW5 Glen Webb of the Texas Army National Guard said in a statement.

The AH-64 Apache is the Army’s helicopter gunship. According to a fact sheet released by the United States Army, it entered service in 1984, and can carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 70mm Hydra rockets, and is also armed with a M230 cannon holding 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The Army plans to manufacture 690 Apaches for service.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Johnson

Apache crashes are not unheard of, with ArmyAirCrews.com listing 43 incidents involving 73 fatalities over the last 36 years, to include one during a test flight. The list includes seven combat losses due to enemy fire (six during Operation Iraqi Freedom, one during Operation Enduring Freedom).

The cause of the crash is under investigation, but KHOU.com reported that bystanders were taking photos of parts from the stricken attack helicopter that were lying near the crash site off the Bayport Cruise Terminal.

Articles

Soldiers in forestry program gain after-service job skills

Sally Gorrill’s career as an engineer in the US Army has taken her to such places as Panama and the Dominican Republic, where she’s built medical clinics. Now, she’s interested in applying her skills toward a new field: forestry.


Gorrill, 30, a captain who’s spent seven years in the Army, is part of a new summer internship program for soldiers through the Veterans Conservation Corps in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. She’s getting training in land management skills as she prepares to transition out of the service.

“It’s the closest I’ve been to home in about 12 years, so it feels great to be back,” said Gorrill, of Gray, Maine, who wants to spend her future outdoors.

So far, she and two other veterans in the program have learned how to maintain trails, keep away bears, and fight forest fires. She’ll also be learning about hydrology, wildlife biology, law enforcement, and other facets of the US Forest Service, which partnered with the Department of Defense on the project.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Organizers hope the fledgling program will provide a model that can be applied nationally to assist more soldiers interested in land management.

Forest Ranger Jim Innes said the Forest Service nationwide is experiencing a lot of attrition through retirement. He said the agency has hired military veterans, who bring strong skills to the Forest Service.

“They bring a completely different way of looking at things to the agency,” he said. “There’s a huge benefit; we learn a lot from them, they learn a lot from us.”

Gorrill said some techniques used to fight wildfires are similar to ones learned in the military. “From my experience, having dealt with construction equipment, it’s probably the most direct translation, because digging trenches is something I’m used to,” she said.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
White Mountain National Forest. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

One challenge for program organizers was providing lodging for the soldiers in the forest. They ended up renovating an old Civilian Conservation Corps-era structure known as “The Lodge” in the Bartlett Experimental Forest, a field laboratory for research on the ecology and management of northern hardwoods and associated ecosystems. The building hadn’t been used for about 10 years. The Forest Service received funding from businesses and volunteer help to install kitchen cabinets and handle electrical and plumbing work. Innes hopes it can be winterized so that program can run year-round.

The soldiers also will be getting help with resume writing and interview skills, as forest officials try to help place them in jobs.

Another participant, Terry Asbridge, 37, of Horseheads, New York, is getting ready to retire from the Army. He has completed 20 years, much of it in recruitment. His goal is to be a district park ranger, but he also can see himself working in firefighting, development or recreation in the forest.

“One of my passions is land management and wildlife management,” he said. “I can put this on my resume and apply for positions with the US Forest Service.”

Articles

This is the Russian infantry weapon that has the US military so worried

Soviet military weapons have an odd tendency to stay both dangerous and relevant decades after they’re issued. They might lack the creature comforts and modularity of modern firearm designs, but whether a bullet finds its mark from a World War I Mosin Nagant rifle, or a next generation Russian bullpup SVD sniper rifle, the result is the same.


The largest example of this, is the infamous AKM/AK-47. Every tin-pot dictatorship or ex-Soviet satellite nation has churned out terrifying numbers of these reliable automatic rifles. While the AKM is a deadly adversary at close and medium range, it is handily outclassed (both in accuracy, and effective range) by modern Western-made military rifles like the M4A3 and M16A4.

That said, there is one Soviet firearm that continues to confound and frustrate American military forces in the Middle East: the PKM.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
The internal workings of the PKM aren’t dissimilar to those of the AK, and because of this, the PKM is remarkably reliable and resilient to negligent treatment. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The PKM or Modernizirovanniy Pulemyot Kalashnikova (PK Machinegun Modernized) is a belt-fed, open-bolt, long-stroke light machine gun chambered in the hard-hitting 7.62x54R cartridge — the same round used by Russian infantry in World War I, Vietcong snipers in Indochina, and modern Russian Federation snipers wielding the infamous Dragunov.

The internal workings of the PKM aren’t dissimilar to those of the AK, and because of this, the PKM is remarkably reliable and resilient to negligent treatment.  This robust construction combined with its powerful cartridge, make for an extraordinarily dangerous weapon against Western militaries — especially since the PKM has an effective range of 1,000-1,500 meters, putting it on par or surpassing most DMR rifles, and light machine guns in service.

Personally, after firing less than 100 rounds through a stateside PKM at an ordnance-testing facility in Nevada, I was able to successfully engage human-sized steel targets with iron sights at 600 yards with frightening regularity. This was with 60-year-old ammunition out of a PKM built in the 1970s with more than a half-million rounds fired through it.

The threat posed by this LMG to American and NATO forces is not lost on military thinkers or modern weapon-makers. In fact, the PKM is the impetus behind the latest evolution of the medium machine gun – the lightweight, medium machine gun, or LWMMG.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Marines with Company A, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-West (SOI-West), fire the M2A1 .50 caliber heavy machine gun as part of their basic infantry training Sept. 20, 2016, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Offical Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Prado/released)

Historically, machine guns are grouped into three categories: light, medium and heavy (and occasionally general purpose). The last two, medium and heavy, are crew-served weapons, normally fired from either a tripod or vehicle mount. These are generally not considered man-portable, but are designed to provide constant fire on an area.

The light machine gun, or LMG generally fires a smaller caliber round than the medium or heavy machine gun, and is designed to be used and transported by a single soldier. These weapons are fired from a bipod, but are light enough to be quickly repositioned in the field.

The 5.56mm caliber M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) is a prime example of a light machine gun, while the .50 BMG M2 is a perfect example of a heavy machine gun. The M2 is tremendously more effective at all ranges than the M249, but its tremendous weight and size make it a poor choice for urban environments.  The M240B almost splits the difference, but its 7.62 cartridge is still out-ranged by the Soviet PKM.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
The General Dynamics Lightweight Medium Machine Gun chambered in .338 Norma Magnum has the reach and lethality of a .50 cal M2. (Photo from General Dynamics video screen grab)

Thus the idea behind the LWMMG, is to combine the lightweight, portable nature of the the LMG with the extended range, and increased ballistic effectiveness of the MMG.

The engineers at General Dynamics are attempting this by incorporating a new “Short Recoil Impulse Averaging” method of operation coupled with a new modified .338 cartridge. At first glance, this seems like the scribblings of someone with no practical experience behind any of these weapon systems. On paper, a man-portable machine gun with the effective range of a .50 BMG, that weighed at little as the M240B with no more recoil than the 240, seems impossible.

If the footage of the new LWMMG released by General Dynamics is any indication, the new machine gun is more than just a concept. What remains to be seen, is whether or not the Pentagon puts enough importance on infantry combat and their equipment, to justify spending millions on upgrading it.

If nothing else, the likelihood of the General Dynamics LWMMG finding its way into the hands of US Special Forces is all but guaranteed. And while the increased effective range of the new cartridge is very impressive, the .338 round lacks the ballistic effectiveness of the .50 BMG. After all, it isn’t intended to double as an anti-material round, nor does it have the anti-vehicle lineage of the .50 BMG cartridge.

That said, the .338 is designed with an ideal ballistic coefficient in mind — meaning the projectile itself sails through the air with minimal resistance. In effect, this means the rounds travel closer to where the soldier aims them.

In the traditional role of an MMG or HMG, this is sometimes seen as detrimental, as the weapon is supposed to be used to provide a field of fire to an area. If the rounds are too precise, the area might be under less wide-spread fire, and potentially leave some enemy combatants unsuppressed.

However, in this case, precision is key. Since the impetus behind the design is to counter insurgent PKM/PKP light machine guns. Conceptually, this should allow our soldiers to out-range insurgent elements, as well as provide more accurate counter-fire.

As for results, we’ll have to wait and see if the idea gains more traction – and if it does, wait a few months or years for an official reports of its combat effectiveness to surface.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This MOH recipient reenlisted to avenge his brother’s death

Ron Rosser was a patriot and a hero. The Medal of Honor recipient who reenlisted in the Army to avenge his brother, died in August at the age of 90.

Army Master Sgt. Ron Rosser served for three years in the post-World War II Army in Japan and Germany and then reenlisted in June 1951 with a single purpose in mind: revenge for the death of his younger brother Richard, who was killed in action in Korea.


Rosser was sent first to Japan. He then volunteered for combat and fought with his command to get a place at the front, eventually landing a spot with Company L, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.

In an oral history recording for Arlington National Cemetery, Rosser said that Big Army couldn’t understand his motivation for demanding to go to Korea. “I made up my mind that you can’t kill my brother and get away with it,” Rosser said.

Company L participated in both Bloody Ridge and the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. Bloody Ridge lasted over three weeks, and there were an estimated 2,7000 casualties. The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge was a month-long battle in the Korean War and was one of several major engagements in the hills of North Korea, just a few miles north of the 38th Parallel.

Then, Company L was ordered to take a hill occupied by the Red Army near the town of Ponggilli. Rosser reports that he estimated at least three battalions on the hill, all in heavily fortified positions. The battle began with only 170 men from Company L. Shortly after maneuvers began, the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero.

The Red Army was completely dug in, and they had the advantage. Rosser gave his radio to another soldier and decided to charge alone to the Red Army front line. He stopped at an outcropping to assess the situation.

Recorded as part of the oral history for Arlington, Rosser said that he considered how much trouble he’d been through to reach that point and that there was no use wasting the day. “I let out a war whoop and jumped in the trench. I just charged straight into them,” he said.

Rosser was armed with only a carbine and a grenade, a fact that’s noted on his Medal of Honor citation. He gained the top of the kill, killed two enemy soldiers, and then went back into the trench. He killed five more enemies as he advanced, often relying on hand-to-hand combat at times.

But Rosser kept advancing, sometimes relying on his rifle as a club. When he ran out of ammunition, he returned to his position to reload. Rosser said that all he was trying to do was protect the men he was responsible for in his unit. He worried that if he didn’t attack, the Red Army would charge down the hill and decimate Company L.

Of the 170 soldiers in the unit, 90 were killed, 12 were captured, and 68 wounded. As Company L retreated, the Red Army didn’t fire any shots at them.

On his Medal of Honor citation, it states that he killed “at least 13 enemy,” but Rosser counts the number as more than 40.

“The purpose of me doing all that crazy stuff was trying to stop them,” he said in the oral history.

Rosser was awarded the Medal of Honor in a June 1952 ceremony at the Rose Garden in the White House. After President Truman read the citation, he turned to Rosser and said, “Personally I’d rather have [the medal] than be president.”

Once pinned, someone told Rosser that now not only did all officers have to salute him, but so too did the president. He was sure someone was pulling a fast one on him. While not an official regulation, it’s a time-honored custom that shows respect, whether or not the Medal of Honor recipient is in uniform.

Rosser was in the Army until 1968. He repeatedly volunteered several times for combat following the death of another brother, who was killed in action in Vietnam. The Army denied Rosser’s request for combat. He retired as a Sgt. First Class but was later promoted to Master Sgt.

Of being a Medal of Honor recipient, Rosser said it could have been awarded to anyone he served with. “I didn’t do anything they didn’t do. I was just lucky enough to survive it.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

David Shulkin, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed up to what he thought would be a routine Senate oversight hearing in January 2018, only to discover it was an ambush.


Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was the sole holdout among members of the veterans affairs committee on a bill that would shape the future of the agency. The bipartisan bill had the support of 26 service groups representing millions of veterans. But Moran was pushing a rival piece of legislation, and it had the support of a White House aide who wields significant clout on veterans policy. Neither proposal could advance as long as there was any doubt about which President Donald Trump wanted to sign.

Moran blamed Shulkin for the impasse. “In every instance, you led me to believe that you and I were on the same page,” Moran said at the hearing. “Our inability to reach an agreement is in significant part related to your ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth: double talk.”

There were gasps in the hearing room. It was an astounding rebuke for a Trump appointee to receive from a Republican senator, especially for Shulkin, who was confirmed by the Senate unanimously.

Clearly ruffled, Shulkin hesitated before answering. “I think it is grossly unfair to make the characterizations you have made of me, and I’m disappointed that you would do that,” he said. “What I am trying to do is give you my best advice about how this works.”

Moran dug in. “I chose my words intentionally,” he said. “I think you tell me one thing and you tell others something else. And that’s incompatible with our ability to reach an agreement and to work together.” Moran then left the hearing for another appointment.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS, center) with Kansans serving in Afghanistan, April 2011

The exchange exposed tensions that had been brewing for months behind closed doors. A battle for the future of the VA has been raging between the White House and veterans groups, with Shulkin caught in the middle. The conflict erupted into national headlines as a result of a seemingly unrelated development: the release of a lacerating report on Shulkin that found “serious derelictions” in a taxpayer-funded European business trip in which he and his wife enjoyed free tickets to Wimbledon and more.

The underlying disagreement at the VA has a different flavor than the overhauls at a number of federal agencies. Unlike some Trump appointees, who took the reins of agencies with track records of opposing the very mission of the organization, Shulkin is a technocratic Obama holdover. He not only participated in the past administration, but defends the VA’s much-maligned health care system. He seeks to keep the organization at the center of veterans’ health care. (An adviser to Shulkin said the White House isn’t permitting him to do interviews.)

But others in the administration want a much more drastic change: They seek to privatize vets’ health care. From perches in Congress, the White House, and the VA itself, they have battled Shulkin. In some instances, his own subordinates have openly defied him.

Related: VA watchdog is reviewing Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe where he attended Wimbledon, went on cruise

Multiple publications have explored the turmoil and conflict at the VA in the wake of the inspector general report. Yet a closer examination shows the roots of the fight stretch back to the presidential campaign and reveals how far the entropy of the Trump administration has spread. Much has been written on the “chaos presidency.” Every day seems to bring exposés of White House backstabbing and blood feuds. The fight over the VA shows not only that this problem afflicts federal agencies, too, but that friction and contradiction were inevitable: Trump appointed a VA secretary who wants to preserve the fundamental structure of government-provided health care; the president also installed a handful of senior aides who are committed to a dramatically different philosophy.

The blistering report may yet cost Shulkin his job. But the attention on his travel-related misbehavior is distracting from a much more significant issue: The administration’s infighting is imperiling a major legislative deal that could shape the future of the VA.

Taking better care of veterans was a constant refrain at Trump’s presidential campaign rallies. In the speech announcing his candidacy, he said, “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military, can take care of our vets. Our vets have been abandoned.” Ex-military people overwhelmingly supported him on Election Day and in office.

Trump’s original policy proposals on veterans health, unveiled in October 2015, largely consisted of tweaks to the current system. They called for increasing funding for mental health and helping vets find jobs; providing more women’s health services; modernizing infrastructure and setting up satellite clinics in rural areas.

The ideas drew derisive responses from the Koch brothers-backed group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). Pete Hegseth, its then-CEO, called the proposal “painfully thin” and “unserious.”

Trump then took a sharp turn toward CVA’s positions after clinching the Republican nomination. In a July 2016 speech in Virginia Beach, he embraced a very different vision for the VA, emphasizing private-sector alternatives. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics,” Trump said, “whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.”

Trump’s new 10-point plan for veterans policy resembled the CVA’s priorities. In fact, six of the proposals drew directly on CVA ideas. Three of them aimed to make it easier to fire employees; a fourth advocated the creation of a reform commission; and two involved privatizing VA medical care.

Trump’s new direction, according to a campaign aide, was influenced by Jeff Miller, then the chairman of the House veterans committee. Miller, who retired from Congress in January 2017, was a close ally of CVA and a scathing critic of Obama’s VA.

Miller became one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump, in April 2016. He did so a few weeks after attending a meeting of the campaign’s national security advisers. (That meeting, and the photo Trump tweeted of it, would become famous because of the presence of George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with investigators after pleading guilty to lying about Russian contacts. Miller is wearing the light gray jacket in the front right. Now a lobbyist with the law firm McDermott Will Emery, he didn’t reply to requests for comment.) Miller became Trump’s point man on veterans policy, the campaign aide said.

Miller and CVA portrayed the VA as the embodiment of “bureaucratic ineptitude and appalling dysfunction.” They were able to cite an ample supply of embarrassing scandals.

The scandals may come as less of a surprise than the fact that the VA actually enjoys widespread support among veterans. Most who use its health care report a positive experience. For example, 92 percent of veterans in a poll conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars reported that they would rather improve the VA system than dismantle it. Independent assessments have found that VA health care outperforms comparable private facilities. “The politicization of health care in the VA is frankly really unfair,” said Nancy Schlichting, the retired CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, who chaired an independent commission to study the VA under the Obama administration. “Noise gets out there based on very specific instances, but this is a very large system. If any health system in this country had the scrutiny the VA has, they’d have stories too.”

One piece of extreme noise was a scandal in 2014, which strengthened Miller and CVA’s hand and created crucial momentum toward privatization. In an April 2014 hearing, Miller revealed that officials at the VA hospital in Phoenix were effectively fudging records to cover up long delays in providing medical care to patients. He alleged that 40 veterans died while waiting to be seen. A week later, CVA organized a protest in Phoenix of 150 veterans demanding answers.

More: This is what happened when the VA tried to slash money for homeless veterans

Miller’s dramatic claims did not hold up. A comprehensive IG investigation would eventually find 28 delays that were clinically significant; and though six of those patients died, the IG did not conclude that the delays caused those deaths. Later still, an independent assessment found that long waits were not widespread: More than 90 percent of existing patients got appointments within two weeks of their initial request.

But such statistics were lost in the furor. “Nobody stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, time out, are we destroying this national resource because a small group of people made a mistake?'” a former senior congressional staffer said. “Even those who considered themselves to be friends of the VA were silent. It was a surreal period. The way it grew tentacles has had consequences nobody would have predicted.”

In the heat of the scandal, Miller and CVA pushed for a new program called Choice. It would allow veterans who have to wait more than 30 days for a doctor’s appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to get private-sector care. The VA has bought some private medical care for decades, but Choice represented a significant expansion, and Democrats were wary that it would open the door to privatizing VA health care on a much broader scale.

Still, the Phoenix scandal had made it hard for the Democrats to resist. The Choice bill passed with bipartisan support and President Obama signed it into law in August 2014.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Former President Barack Obama. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By 2016, then-candidate Trump was demanding further changes. “The VA scandals that have occurred on this administration’s watch are widespread and inexcusable,” he said in the Virginia Beach speech. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center. We must extend this right to all veterans.”

Trump’s contacts with CVA and its allies deepened during the transition. He met Hegseth, who left CVA to become a Fox News commentator, in Trump Tower. Trump picked Darin Selnick for the “landing team” that would supervise the transition at the VA. Selnick had directed CVA’s policy task force, which in 2015 recommended splitting the VA’s payer and provider functions and spinning off the latter into a government nonprofit corporation. Such an operation, organized along the lines of Amtrak, would be able to receive federal funding but also raise other revenue.

Trump’s consideration of Hegseth and Miller to lead the VA ran into fierce resistance from veterans groups, powerful institutions whose clout is boosted by the emotional power that comes with members’ having risked their lives for their country. At a meeting with the Trump transition in December 2016, officials from the major veterans groups held a firm line against privatizing the VA and any secretary intent on it.

Trump finally settled on Shulkin, 58, who ran the VA health system under Obama. Shulkin is a former chief of private hospital systems and a doctor — an internist, he still occasionally treats patients at the VA — who comes across more as a medical geek than the chief of a massive organization.

Trump heaps praise on Shulkin in public appearances and meets with him regularly in private. He was one of the first cabinet secretaries Trump consulted about the impact of the government shutdown on Jan. 21, 2018. They met at Camp David in December 2017 and lunched at the White House on Feb. 8, 2018. “You’re doing a great job,” Trump told Shulkin at a Jan. 9 signing ceremony for an executive order on veterans mental health services, handing Shulkin the executive pen. “We appreciate you.”

Also read: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Trump may like Shulkin, but that didn’t stop his administration from appointing officials who opposed his philosophy. One of them, Jake Leinenkugel, a Marine Corps veteran and retired Wisconsin brewery owner, became the White House’s eyes and ears inside the agency. He works in an office next to Shulkin’s, but his title is senior White House adviser. Leinenkugel, 65, said he came out of retirement to take the position because he was “excited about taking POTUS’s agenda and advancing it.” As he put it, “I’m here to help veterans.”

He and Shulkin got along fine for a few months. But then, in May 2017, the two men clashed, as Shulkin accused Leinenkugel of undermining him. Shulkin wanted to nominate the VA’s acting under secretary for health, Poonam Alaigh, to take the position permanently, according to two people familiar with his thinking. But, the VA secretary charged, Leinenkugel told the White House to drop Alaigh. Shulkin confronted Leinenkugel, who denied any sabotage, according to an email Leinenkugel subsequently wrote. Alaigh stepped down in October and the position remains unfilled.

Shulkin has even been at odds with his own press secretary, Curt Cashour, who came from Miller’s House committee staff. January 2018, Shulkin assigned an official to send a letter to a veterans group that said the agency would update its motto, to be inclusive of servicewomen. (Adapted from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the original reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The new version would read: “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”)

Cashour told The Washington Post the motto wouldn’t change. A few days later, the secretary’s strategic plan went out using the updated, gender-neutral motto. Cashour then denied the change a second time, telling the Post that was “not VA’s position.” A new document with the Lincoln quote restored subsequently appeared on the VA’s website. Shulkin was stunned at being disobeyed by his own spokesman, two people briefed on the incident said. (Cashour denied defying the VA secretary. “The premise of your inquiry is false,” he told ProPublica. Cashour said Shulkin never approved the letter regarding the updated motto and authorized the restoration of the original one.)

Then there was Selnick, who became the administration’s most effective proponent for privatization. He joined the VA as a “senior advisor to the secretary.” Though he reported to Shulkin, he quickly began developing his own policy proposals and conducted his own dealings with lawmakers, according to people with knowledge of the situation. In mid-2017 Shulkin pushed him out — sort of.

Selnick left the VA offices and took up roost in the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. There he started hosting VA-related policy meetings without informing Shulkin, according to people briefed on the meetings. At one such meeting of the “Veterans Policy Coordinating Committee,” Selnick floated merging the Choice program with military’s Tricare insurance plan, according to documents from the meeting obtained by ProPublica.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Former House Veterans Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller.

Veterans groups were furious. At a Nov. 17, 2017  meeting, Selnick boasted that Trump wouldn’t sign anything without Selnick’s endorsement, according to a person present. Shulkin would later tell a confidant that moving Selnick out of the VA was his “biggest mistake” because he did even more damage from the White House. (Selnick did not reply to a request for comment. A White House spokesman said some VA officials were aware of the policy meetings that Selnick hosted. The spokesman said Selnick does not brief the president or the chief of staff.)

Selnick, 57, is a retired Air Force captain from California who worked in the VA under the George W. Bush administration. At CVA, he not only ran the policy task force, he testified before Congress and appeared on TV. In 2015, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Selnick to the Commission on Care, an independent body created by a Congressional act to study the VA and make recommendations.

Selnick impressed his fellow commissioners with his preparation but sometimes irked them with what they viewed as his assumption that he was in charge, people who worked with him on the commission said. Selnick often brought up his experience at the VA. But some commissioners scoffed behind his back because his position, in charge of faith-based initiatives, had little relevance to health care. Whatever his credentials, Selnick had audacious ambitions: He wanted to reconceive the VA’s fundamental approach to medical care.

Selnick wanted to open up the VA so any veteran could see any doctor, an approach that would transform its role into something resembling an insurance company, albeit one with no restrictions on providers. Other commissioners worried that would cost the government more, impose fees and deductibles on veterans and serve them worse. “He was probably the most vocal of all of the members,” said David Gorman, the retired executive director of Disabled American Veterans who also served on the commission, “in a good and a bad way.”

The bad part, in the view of Nancy Schlichting, the chairwoman, emerged when Selnick tried to “hijack” the commission. Selnick and a minority of commissioners secretly drafted their own proposal, which went further than CVA’s. (The group included executives of large health systems that stood to gain more patients.) They wrote that the “the current VA health care system is seriously broken” with “no efficient path to repair it.” They proposed closing facilities, letting all veterans choose private care, and transitioning the rest to private care over two decades.

Related: Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than three million calls

The draft was written in a way that seemed to speak for the commission as a whole, with phrases like “the Commission recommends.” The commission staff suggested labeling it a “straw man report,” implying it was meant to provoke discussion. Still, veterans organizations were angry, and Schlichting had to publicly disavow the draft. “Darin Selnick has never run a health system in his life and doesn’t understand the complexity of it,” Schlichting told ProPublica.

For his part, Shulkin publicly staked out his vision in a March 17, 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, he defended the VA’s quality of care and proposed reimagining the VA as an integrated system composed of its own core facilities, a network of vetted private-sector providers, and a third layer of private care for veterans in remote places. Shulkin also edited a book published last year trumpeting the VA’s successes, called “Best Care Everywhere.”

Almost four years after the Phoenix scandal, the emergency measure letting some veterans get care outside the VA is still limping along with temporary extensions, not to mention payment glitches and confusion about its rules. Key legislators grew tired of renewing emergency funding and wanted to find a long-term solution. In the House, negotiations broke down after Democrats boycotted a listening session featuring CVA. So fall 2017, focus turned to the Senate.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
A quote from Abraham Lincoln on a sign at the Department of Veterans Affairs Building in Washington, DC. (Flickr)

The crux of the debate was the extent to which the VA should rely on private care. The chairman and ranking member on the Senate veterans committee, respectively, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jon Tester of Montana, drafted a bill to consolidate all of the VA’s programs that pay for private care and let doctors and patients decide where veterans would get care. The VA would buy private care when that makes the most sense but would still coordinate all veterans care in an integrated, comprehensive way. The bill garnered the support of 26 veterans organizations and every committee member except Moran.

Moran represents the Koch brothers’ home state; employees of Koch Industries are the second-largest source of campaign contributions in his career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. With the support of CVA, Moran wanted to establish clear criteria making veterans eligible for private-sector care, like the 30 days/40 miles standard in the Choice program. It might sound like a subtle distinction, but it means the difference between keeping all veterans within the VA system versus ceding the direction of patient care to the private sector. When the committee rejected his amendment, Moran proposed his own bill and signed up Sen. John McCain as a co-sponsor.

Moran’s bill initially called for all veterans to be able to choose private care. When a McCain aide shared it with a lobbyist for the American Legion, the lobbyist was so enraged by what he viewed as a bid to undermine the VA that he torched a copy of the bill and sent the McCain aide a photo of the charred draft. (An American Legion spokesman declined to comment.) With the American Legion’s input, McCain’s and Moran’s staffs toned down the bill to the point that they got letters of support from the group, along with Amvets and CVA. But American Legion and Amvets were still working to get consensus on the Isakson-Tester bill.

Still, the Moran-McCain bill had a few key allies: Selnick and Leinenkugel. They had gained sway in part because of a White House vacuum. The president himself has been largely absent on veterans policy and there’s no senior point person. The portfolio has at times belonged to Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Omarosa Manigault, according to veterans groups and congressional officials. (A White House spokesman said those officials played a role in “veterans issues,” but not “veterans policy.” The latter, the spokesman said, is overseen by Selnick on the Domestic Policy Council.)

That has given Selnick and Leinenkugel wide latitude to shape White House positions on issues that don’t rise to Trump’s level. “Darin [Selnick] is pretty much in the ascendancy,” said Michael Blecker, the executive director of Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based charity serving veterans.

As long as Moran had a competing claim to the Trump administration’s support, the Isakson-Tester bill was stuck. Republicans wouldn’t risk a floor vote on a bill the president might not sign. Shulkin supported the Isakson-Tester bill but he knew his rivals inside the White House were pushing for Moran’s proposal. So Shulkin hedged, awkwardly praising both bills. “We still don’t know which bill he wants,” Joe Chenelly, executive director of Amvets, said. “If the White House wants something different, then we need to know how to reconcile that.”

Amid the impasse, the Choice program was out of money again and needed an extension as part of the end-of-year spending deal. Tester vowed to make it the last one he’d agree to. He called on Shulkin to break the stalemate by publicly endorsing his and Isakson’s bill. “I would love to have the VA come out forcefully for this bill,” he said on the Senate floor in late December. “I think it would help get it passed.”

In a private meeting, Isakson and Tester chided Shulkin for withholding support for their bill, according to three people briefed on the meeting. Shulkin told them he was doing the best he could, but he had to fend off a competing agenda from the White House.

Unbeknown to Shulkin, there was already talk in the White House of easing him out. On Dec. 4, 2017, Leinenkugel wrote a memo, which ProPublica obtained, summarizing his disillusionment with Shulkin as well as with Shulkin’s deputy, Thomas Bowman, and chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson. (“I was asked to tell the truth and I gave it,” said Leinenkugel of his memo; he declined to say who requested it.)

More reading: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Leinenkugel accused Bowman of disloyalty and opposing the “dynamic new Choice options requested by POTUS agenda.” The memo recommended that Bowman be fired — and replaced by Leinenkugel himself. It also asserted that Wright Simpson “was proud to tell me she is a Democrat who completely trusts the secretary and it’s her job to protect him.” Leinenkugel accused her of delaying the placement of Trump’s political appointees. Leinenkugel recommended replacing her, too.

As for Shulkin, Leinenkugel’s memo advocated he be “put on notice to leave after major legislation and key POTUS VA initiatives [are] in place.”

After the clash between Moran and Shulkin at the January hearing, Isakson said the White House would provide feedback on his bill to help the committee chart a way forward. “The president basically is pushing to get a unanimous vote out of committee,” said Rick Weidman, the top lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “The only reason why we didn’t get it before was there is one mid-level guy on the Domestic Policy Council who threw a monkey wrench into it by confusing people about what the administration’s position is.” That person, Weidman said, is Selnick.

The White House’s feedback on the Isakson-Tester bill, a copy of which was obtained by ProPublica, was the closest the administration has come to a unified position on veterans health care. It incorporated input from the VA and the Office of Management and Budget. Selnick told veterans groups he wrote the memo, leaving some miffed that Selnick seemingly had the final word instead of Shulkin. (A White House spokesman said Selnick was not the only author.)

Selnick requested changes that might look like minor tweaks but would have dramatic policy consequences. “It’s these very small differences in details that the public would never notice that change the character of the thing entirely,” said Phillip Longman, whose 2007 book, “Best Care Anywhere,” argued that the VA works better than private health care. (The title of the book Shulkin edited, “Best Care Everywhere,” was a nod at Longman’s book.)

Most important, the White House wanted clear criteria that make veterans eligible for private care. That was the main feature of Moran’s bill and the sticking point in the negotiations. The administration also asked to preserve a piece of the Choice program by grandfathering in veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. CVA praised the White House for nudging the bill in Moran’s direction. “We applaud President Trump for taking a firm stand in favor of more health care choice for veterans at the VA,” the group’s director, Daniel Caldwell, said in a statement dated Jan. 24, 2018.

The White House feedback also called for removing provisions that would regulate providers, such as requiring them to meet quality standards and limiting opioid prescriptions. And the administration objected to provisions in the bill that would require it to fill critical vacancies at the VA and report back to Congress.

Selnick got what he asked for, but it still might not be enough. Isakson and Tester agreed to most of the changes. But in a White House meeting with veterans groups on Feb. 5, 2018, Selnick continued to insist on open choice, suggesting that’s what Trump wants. Selnick visited Moran’s staff, a person with knowledge of the meeting said, and Moran indicated he wouldn’t support the modified version of the Isakson-Tester bill. (A White House spokesman said Isakson and Tester did not accept all the changes and negotiations continue. He denied that Selnick pushed for open choice.) Moran’s spokesman didn’t answer emailed questions by press time.)

The tensions spilled out publicly again on Feb. 8, 2018, when the Washington Post reported that the White House wanted to oust Bowman, Shulkin’s deputy. The article said the purpose was to chastise Shulkin for “freewheeling” — working with senators who don’t share the administration’s position. Isakson’s spokeswoman called it a “shameful attempt” to derail the negotiations. Isakson resolved to move ahead without Moran, the spokeswoman said, but it’s not clear when the bill will get time on the Senate floor (the Senate focused on immigration this week and then will take a recess). Moran could still place a “hold” on the bill or round up other senators to oppose it.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Shulkin determined that Selnick and Leinenkugel had to go, according to four people familiar with the secretary’s thinking. But Shulkin doesn’t appear to have the authority to fire them since they work for the White House. Plus, the attacks from the right were already taking a toll on Shulkin’s standing. “If leaders at Trump’s VA don’t support REAL CHOICE — why won’t they resign?” former CVA chief Hegseth tweeted on Feb. 13, 2018 tagging Shulkin in the post.

Veterans advocates responded by defending Shulkin against attacks they viewed as originating with Selnick and Leinenkugel. “They thought they could coopt David,” said Weidman, the lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “When he couldn’t be coopted, they decided to go after his character.”

The biggest blow came on Feb. 14, 2018 when the VA’s Inspector General released its report on Shulkin’s trip to Europe in April 2017. It concluded that Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets, misused a subordinate as a “personal travel concierge,” lied to reporters, and that his chief of staff doctored an email in such a way that would justify paying travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife.

Shulkin disputed the IG’s findings, but he again ran into trouble getting his message out from his own press office. A statement insisting he had “done nothing wrong” disappeared from the VA’s website, and Cashour replaced it with one saying “we look forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations in more detail before determining an appropriate response.” Cashour said the White House directed him to take down Shulkin’s statement and approved the new one.

Shulkin told Politico the IG report was spurred by internal opponents. “They are really killing me,” he said. By Feb. 16, 2018, his chief of staff had told colleagues Friday she would retire, USA Today reported.

The condemnation after the IG report was swift and widespread. House veterans committee member Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called on Shulkin to resign. Democrats, though generally sympathetic to Shulkin, couldn’t resist lumping the imbroglio in with other travel-expense tempests across Trump’s cabinet (involving Tom Price, Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, and Steven Mnuchin). The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate veterans committees said they were “disappointed” and want Shulkin to address the allegations, but acknowledged the politics at work and the stakes in a joint statement: “We need to continue progress we have made and not allow distractions to get in the way.”

The next day, Shulkin appeared before another routine oversight hearing, in this instance on the House side. He told the representatives he would reimburse the government for his wife’s travel and accept the IG’s recommendations. Shulkin thanked the chairman and ranking member for urging their colleagues not to let the scandal commandeer the hearing. “I do regret the decisions that have been made that have taken the focus off that important work,” he said.

Turning to the VA’s budget, Shulkin resumed his tightrope walk. He praised the VA’s services while acknowledging the need for some veterans to be treated outside the government’s system. By the time he left the hearing, two hours later, the Trump administration’s position on veterans health privatization remained a mystery.

Articles

Military working dog awarded Purple Heart alongside handler

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Facebook | 89th Military Police Brigade


A military K-9 injured in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan along with his military police officer partner now has a lot of support after a photo of the dog wearing a Purple Heart Medal in a hospital in Germany has gone viral, the Killeen Daily Herald reports.

Spc. Andrew Brown, 22, and his military dog, Rocky, were searching a structure for explosive materials in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province Dec. 3 when the bomb exploded, the Texas newspaper reported Friday.

“They were working with Special Operations Forces in an effort to identify explosive materials,” Army spokesman Sgt. Michal Garrett told the paper.

Brown and Rocky survived the blast and were taken to a military hospital in Germany. There, a photo was taken of Rocky wearing the Purple Heart and posted on the Facebook page of Fort Hood’s 89th Military Police Brigade. Brown is assigned to the brigade.

The photo had more than 89,000 likes, 118,000 shares and more than 9,500 comments as of Sunday morning.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Facebook | 89th Military Police Brigade

“The Army typically does not process awards for our working dogs the same way we do for our other soldiers,” Garrett told the Daily Herald. “The Purple Heart in the photo was placed on Rocky as a sign of respect and solidarity between him and Brown during their recovery.”

Two days ago the brigade posted another photo of Brown and Rocky in a hospital room on Facebook that said, “They are both very thankful for your thoughts and prayers and are in the process of heading back home.

The post said Brown had arrived earlier Friday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Hospital in Washington where he was met by his waiting family.

The Daily Herald reported that Brown, of Eliot, Maine, suffered non-life threatening injuries and will undergo a series of tests for traumatic brain injury. The tests are routine for soldiers injured by roadside bombs.

Rocky is expected to return to Fort Hood in the coming weeks. The canine suffered shrapnel wounds and a broken leg.

More from Fox News

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of Jul. 15

It’s the weekly memes call! Hit us up on Facebook if you want to send in your funny military memes.


1. Just wait until pilots start uploading screen captures of them capturing Pokemon at altitude (via Air Force amn/nco/snco).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
The best Charizards are at 20,000 feet.

2. “How do you keep a private busy for hours? Read below.”

(via Sh-t my LPO says)

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

SEE ALSO: Afghanistan commanders says new rules allow U.S. troops to go on the offensive

3. It’s a little hard to roll armor sleeves, but we’ll figure it out (via Military Memes).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Just don’t let the material bunch up around your elbows. It might throw off your famous marksmanship.

4. Yeah, that’s about right (via Ranger Up Military and MMA Apparel)

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Cluster munitions: For when you have a lot of f-cks to give.

5. “Ummm… I submitted that travel voucher.”

(via Maintainer Humor)

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

6. I can no longer see these rhyming pairs without hearing Taylor Swift singing them (via Military Memes).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

7. The Army is easy as long as you’re always prepared (via Pop Smoke).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
I mean, setting an alarm would’ve been even easier, but whatever.

8. “I was the valedictorian.”

(via Devil Dog Nation)

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

9. Not sure the guys in the first photo actually look any cooler than the ones in the second (via Air Force Nation).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
But at least they’re healthier. Those bottom airmen have jaundice or something.

10. One foot in each camp:

(via Sh-t my LPO says)

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Maybe only the sailor’s left side has been promoted.

11. “We’re going to keep rehearsing this all day? Super-awesome-sweet.”

(via Pop Smoke)

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

12. Just wait till he crushes the cans on his head (via Grunt Nation).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Meanwhile, sergeant major just wants to know where the Marine’s cover is.

13. Pretty sure most recruiters will let you hunt Pokemon in the station if you take the practice ASVAB first (via Do you even Marine, bro?).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
They’re catching you while you catch Mewtwo.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Lack of cyber talent remains a national security threat

The massive shortage of cyber professionals is a national security threat, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Cyber personnel from the private and public sectors are America’s frontline of defense because critical infrastructure sectors, including water, healthcare, and elections, rely on a resilient cyber infrastructure, explained Rob Karas, associate director for Cyber Defense Education and Training from the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.


“America’s cybersecurity workforce is a strategic asset that protects the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life,” he said.

However, there is not enough talent in the field, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“Estimates place the global cybersecurity workforce shortage at approximately three million people worldwide, with roughly 500,000 job openings in the United States,” Karas said. “This global shortage means American organizations, whether in the private sector or in the federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial governments, compete with employers all over the world as well as with each other to find cybersecurity talent. … CISA sees the cybersecurity workforce shortage as a national security issue.”

Army Lt. Col. Julianna M. Rodriguez is a cyber warfare officer at Fort Gordon, Georgia. She is the offensive cyberspace operations division chief in the Army Cyber Command’s Technical Warfare Section.

Though she did not take a direct path to her current position, her preparation and adaptability enabled her to take advantage of opportunities for the evolving cyber field.

In high school, Rodriguez took advanced classes, focusing on math and science up to AP Calculus BC and AP Physics. After graduating, she attended the United States Military Academy, majoring in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Computer Systems Architecture.

In addition to earning a master’s in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science through Columbia Engineering, she earned two technical certifications: Mirantis OpenStack Certification Professional Level and SaltStack Certified Engineer, and is preparing for the Army Cyber Developer Exam.

For Rodriguez, changing career fields was a process of discovering where she could best serve.

“I started in Air Defense Artillery because [in 2003] it was one of the few combat arms branches in which women officers could lead,” she said.

Rodriguez served in ADA units as a battalion intelligence officer and headquarters battery commander, eventually attending the MI Officer Advanced Course. She also deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division to Afghanistan and taught at the USMA before transferring into the cyber branch.

When advising others interested in cyber, Rodriguez gives feedback based on her experience.

“Our citizens can best serve when they use their innate skills and interests for our national good [and] improve daily in learning and practicing related skills. For those who have an interest in computing, information technology, and network communications, committing to engage that interest in service to our nation can meaningfully impact our nation’s security,” she said.

However, she cautioned how the field is not a good fit for those who like routine and clearly defined work. She also described the Army’s cyber branch as highly competitive, so if an individual wants to join, she recommends:

  • Learn programming languages C, Python, R, or JavaScript (Not markup languages like HTML)
  • Obtain technical certifications like OSCP, OSCE, CISA, and CCNP
  • Do networking or security projects
  • Stay current on technology advances and policy impacts

Rodriguez adds specific backgrounds make a good fit for the field, including those with strong computer and IT skills.

“Soldiers from a variety of other branches and MOSes, including signal, aviation, and field artillery,” she said.

Because of the critical need for cyber talent, the Army created the Cyber Direct Commissioning Program. It is actively recruiting “software engineers, data scientists, DevOps engineers, hardware and radio frequency engineers, vulnerability researchers, and other computer-based professionals,” Rodriguez said. “I encourage anyone who has a deep interest in technology, a penchant for learning and change, and a commitment to our nation’s security to pursue a career in cyber with our military.”

For those interested in CISA cybersecurity education programs, check out:

FedVTE (Federal Virtual Training Environment): Free online cybersecurity training

CyberCorps® Scholarship for Service: DHS/CISA scholarship for bachelors, masters, and graduate cybersecurity degree programs in return for service in federal, state, local or tribal governments upon graduation

President’s Cup Cyber Competition: Competition for federal and Department of Defense cyber workforce to promote and recognize top cyber talent in government service

National Centers of Academic Excellence: 190+ academic institutions that DHS/CISA and the National Security Agency have designated for cybersecurity-related degrees

Cybersecurity Education Training Assistance Program: Cybersecurity curricula and education tools for K-12 teachers

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

Articles

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on June 23 that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.


“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you.”

Trump repeatedly promised during the election campaign to dismiss VA workers “who let our veterans down,” and he cast the bill signing as fulfillment of that promise.

“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by George Skidmore)

The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the US government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.

Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he’d have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired” if the reforms were not implemented.

The legislation, which many veterans’ groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
David Shulkin (right) – DoD Photo by Megan Garcia

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the move, saying, “In a nasty, partisan environment like we’ve never seen, veterans’ issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans.”

The bill was a rare Trump initiative that received Democratic support. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill “will protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation.”

The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the Senate-passed measure was seen as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House version – 180 days versus 45 days. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
USMC Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling

The bill also turns another of Trump’s campaign pledges into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the bill signing “a significant step to reform the VA with a renewed purpose and ability to serve our veterans.”

“The ultimate goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture within the VA so that our veterans receive the best care possible,” McCarthy said.

The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 49 most incredible photos of the US military in 2017

In all of its branches, the U.S. military had an incredibly active 2017.


Luckily, photographers were often on hand to capture the training, combat, and downtime of the men and women in uniform.

We want to highlight the best of the best, 49 images that show the wide range of what military life entails.

Check the amazing photos out below:

Navy:

49. Sailors create snow angels on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 7 after returning home from a deployment.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

48. A member of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 traverses a mud-filled pit while participating in the endurance course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan, on February 17.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

47. The amphibious assault ship USS Ma kin Island transits the Arabian Sea on March 3.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

46. Members of the Leap Frogs, a US Navy parachute team, jump out of a C-130 Hercules during a skydiving demonstration above Biloxi High School in Mississippi on April 6.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

45. A Naval aircrewman rescues two dogs at Houston’s Pine Forest Elementary School, a shelter that required evacuation after floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey reached its grounds on August 31.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

44. A Naval aircrewman comforts a Puerto Rican evacuee following the landfall of Hurricane Maria on September 25.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

43. The USS Nimitz, USS Ronald Reagan, and USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carriers and their strike groups in the Pacific Ocean on November 12.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

42. A sailor signals the launch of an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the flight deck of the USS Reagan on November 18.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

41. The new USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier transits the Atlantic Ocean on December 13.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Navy

Army:

40. A Green Beret provides over-watch security during small-unit tactic training on January 18 at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

39. Army mortarmen, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, fire mortars near Al Tarab, Iraq, during the offensive to liberate western Mosul from the terrorist group ISIS on March 19.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

38. A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in the Mojave Desert on May 30 at Fort Irwin in California.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

37. Soldiers conduct sling-load and air-assault training with M777A2 howitzers at Bemowo Piskie Training Area near Orzysz, Poland, on June 7.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

36. A US Army Reserve sniper and infantry soldier poses at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey on July 26.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

35. Paratroopers conduct Hollywood jumps at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska on July 27. They’re known as Hollywood jumps because the paratroopers wear nothing but a parachute and a reserve.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

34. US Army soldiers and cadets prepare for a live-fire exercise at Camp Grayling in Michigan on August 4.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

33. Soldiers secure an objective on top of a mountain during Decisive Action Rotation 17-08 at Fort Irwin on August 21.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

32. A paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne brigade collects his parachute after landing on September 26.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

31. US Army paratroopers conduct an airborne operation from a C-130 Hercules in Pordenone, Italy, on December 12.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Army

Air Force:

30. Pararescuemen from the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron prepare for a night jump from a C-130 Hercules over Grand Bara, Djibouti on March 20.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Pararescuemen from the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron prepare for a night jump from a C-130 Hercules over Grand Bara, Djibouti, March 20, 2017. U.S. Air Force photo Tech. Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia

29. Senior Airman Jacqueline D’urso, a boom operator with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, prepares to make contact with a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during a refuel mission over the southeast US on April 4.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ned T. Johnston

28. Instructors assigned to the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron, Operational Support Joint Office, jump from a 15th Special Operations Squadron MC-130H Combat Talon II above northwest Florida on June 28.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air Force photo Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick

27. A 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit maintainer adjusts the window of a KC-135 Stratotanker boom pod before a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar on July 3.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Battles

26. US personnel from the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron conduct C-130J Super Hercules airlift operations in East Africa on July 19.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. personnel from the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron conduct C-130J Super Hercules airlift operations in East Africa, July 19, 2017. U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Russ Scalf

25. Joint terminal attack controllers wave at an A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft during a show of force on the Nevada Test and Training Range on July 19.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum

24. Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Carr, a crew chief with the 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, checks the engine of a C-17 Globemaster III during Exercise Mobility Guardian at the base on August 6.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Carr, a crew chief with the 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, checks the engine of a C-17 Globemaster III during Exercise Mobility Guardian at the base, August 6, 2017. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb

23. Airmen from the 41st Helicopter Maintenance Unit perform post-flight maintenance on an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia on September 3.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air Force Andrea Jenkins

22. An air commando from the 7th Special Operations Squadron fires a .50-caliber machine gun aboard a CV-22 Osprey during a flight around southern England on September 11.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Philip Steiner

21. A crew chief assigned to the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron walks on the flight line near a C-130J Super Hercules during Exercise Beverly Morning 17-06 at Yokota Air Base, Japan on October 26.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air Force Yasuo Osakabe

Marines:

20. A crew chief assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 observes the landing zone from a UH-1Y Huey during a training operation at Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue in North Carolina on March 9.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Flickr Marines

19. Marines working with III MEF Marines fly the AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom past Mount Fuji in Japan on March 22.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Marine Corps Facebook

18. A Marine with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fires an M777 howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve on March 24.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Marine Corps

17. Marines fire an M777-A2 howitzer in northern Syria on May 15.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Marine Corps Facebook

16. A Marine waits to conduct a fire mission in Syria early on June 3.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Marine Corps

15. Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa exit an MV-22B Osprey during assault training at Sierra Del Retin, Spain, on June 26.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Marine Corps Facebook

14. Cpl. Suzette Clemans, a military-working-dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, and Denny, her Belgian Malinois patrol explosive-detection dog, prepare to search for explosives on the beach aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California on October 21.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Flickr Marines

13. Lance Cpl. Luis Arana fires the Carl Gustav rocket system during live-fire training at Range 7 at Camp Hansen in Japan on October 25.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Flickr Marines

12. Capt. Gregory Veteto, of Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, punts a football sent by his wife revealing the sex of his baby during a weekly formation on November 1.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Flickr Marines

11. MV-22B Ospreys with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, transports Marines to land from the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima during an exercise in the Atlantic Ocean on December 7.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Marine Corps

Coast Guard:

10. The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships on January 16.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley

9. US Coast Guard ice-rescue team members training on Lake Champlain at Coast Guard Station Burlington on February 17.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Mattison

8. Coast Guard Cutter Munro passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on its way into the Bay Area on April 6.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Stanton

7. The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Oak scrapes mussels off a buoy and shovels them back into the ocean off the Massachusetts coast on May 10.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Oak scrape mussels off a buoy and shovel them back into the ocean off the Massachusetts coast, May 10, 2017. Marine growth and mussels build up over time and can weigh down the buoy. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

6. US Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton unloads about 18.5 tons of cocaine — worth $498 million — seized in 20 separate incidents in international waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, at Port Everglades, Florida on May 18.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Coast Guard

5. Petty Officer 2nd Class Lyman Dickinson, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Sector San Diego, is lowered into the water from an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a joint search-and-rescue exercise with the Mexican navy off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico on June 7.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Joel Guzman

4. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sailed into some foggy weather in Casco Bay during its arrival in Portland, Maine on August 4. The arrival coincided with Coast Guard’s 227th birthday.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier

3. Coast Guard members offload MH-65 Dolphin helicopters from an Air Force C-17 aircraft at Coast Guard Air Station Miami in Opa Locka, Florida on September 11.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Coast Guard

2. Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson Ernst uses a line-throwing gun to help pass the tow line to 65-foot fishing trawler Black Beauty, off the coast of New Hampshire on November 11.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
U.S. Coast Guard

1. Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Rodriguez, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, and Sung Jun Lee, from the Korean coast guard, hoist Oscar the dummy during a vertical-surface and self-rappelling exercise at Makapu’u Lighthouse, Oahu on November 16.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Rodriguez, an aviation-survival technician at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, and Sung Jun Lee with the Korean coast guard, hoist Oscar the dummy during a vertical-surface and self-rappelling exercise at Makapu’u Lighthouse, Oahu, November 16, 2017. Members of the Korean coast guard visited Air Station Barbers Point during a professional exchange and as a way to share best practices. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle

MIGHTY TRENDING

The hilarious ways Chinese police are combating jaywalkers

China is so desperate to stop jaywalkers it has turned to spraying them with water.

In Daye, in the central Hubei province, one pedestrian crossing has had a number of bright yellow bollards installed that spray wayward pedestrians’ feet with water mist.


The pilot system works by using a laser sensor that identifies movement off the curb when the pedestrian light is still red. The bollard then emits its water spray, set to 26 degrees Celsius, and announces, “Please do not cross the street, crossing is dangerous.”

Unsurprisingly, the bollards are also equipped with facial recognition technology and photographs of jaywalkers are displayed on a giant LED screen next to the crossing.

The use of facial-recognition technology is soaring in China where it is being used to increase efficiencies and improve policing. AI is being used to find fugitives, track people’s regular hangouts, predict crime before it happens, but, most commonly, to stop jaywalkers.

While many Chinese cities are displaying jaywalkers’ photos, names, and identification numbers on giant public screens, and even government websites, some cities are becoming more creative.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

Shenzen has begun immediately texting jaywalkers after they commit their traffic infringement, while other cities only allow pedestrians to have their photos removed from public screens after helping a traffic officer for 20 minutes.

But why, of all crimes, does China focus so heavily on stopping jaywalkers?

Crossing roads in China can be very dangerous, and local governments are likely trying to minimize traffic jams and change pedestrians’ behaviors for their own safety.

According to the World Health Organization, China had more than 260,000 road traffic deaths in 2013.

An anecdotal contributor to this number appears to be the country’s compensation system. In China, drivers who injure someone customarily pay expenses, but paying up to $50,000 for a funeral or burial is far cheaper than what may be life-long medical bills. So for some drivers its more frugal to ensure a victim is deceased.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
(Photo by Leo Fung)

There could also be less altruistic reasons for the clamp-down.

When one city built pedestrian gates at a busy intersection it was linked to attempts to strengthen “public morals.” In a country where the government attempts to — and largely succeeds in —censoring its citizens behaviour in accordance with morality and socialist values, the constant flood of jaywalkers flaunting the law and creating havoc is hardly an ideal scenario.

And while the new water spray system seems like a light-hearted solution to these problems, the consequences could be severe.

If Daye’s system is rolled out across the city, Global Times reported that the behavior of repeat jaywalkers may lower offenders’ social credit scores. People with low social credit scores can be blocked from traveling, applying for certain jobs, sending their kids to certain schools, and even throttling internet speeds.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This is why German submarines attacked civilian vessels during World War I

In retrospect, Germany’s decision to attack merchant ships and carry out unrestricted submarine warfare seems incredibly stupid. They knew – or should have known – that killing citizens of a neutral country (specifically the United States) even unintentionally was a damn good way to get America in the war on the side of the Allies.


Well, it turns out that Germany was relying on submarines to throttle British commerce. When the war started, the Germans had their submarines play by what had been the accepted rules of warfare when it came to merchant ships.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
A German U-boat under fire during World War I. (Youtube screenshot)

You approached them, you got them to stop, and you allowed the passengers and crew to abandon ship before you sank the ship. When it came to warfare, it was reasonably civilized, given that you were sending those people from a relatively safe merchant vessel and into open lifeboats and rafts, with only oars and the ocean current for travel and not that much in the way of supplies.

As you might imagine, the folks on those merchant ships didn’t want to go through that kind of ordeal of they could avoid it. So, the British started by arming merchant ships. Soon the submarines were being fired on as they surfaced. The invention of the Q-ship made following the rules for submarines even more hazardous – and a good way for the sub to be sunk. When subs sank, the casualty rate amongst the crew often was 100 percent.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
A U-boat’ victim starts its plunge to the bottom of the ocean. (Youtube screenshot)

German sub commanders didn’t want to have that sort of end-of-life experience. Nor did their crews, for that matter. So, the Germans decided to carry out unrestricted submarine warfare where they shot the merchant ships on sight. And thus began the chain of events that would bring the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies.

Articles

Are the US and China coming closer to blows in South China Sea?

The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for years, becoming the subject of the Dale Brown novel “Sky Masters” and Tom Clancy’s SSN video game and tie-in book.


Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

It’s a seven-way Mexican standoff between the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam.

And you thought Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” had it bad in that final standoff in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!

But the United States Navy has been willing to challenge the PRC’s claims in the region. A recent U.S. Navy release discussed how the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) “conducted routine operations” while transiting the South China Sea. That region has recently become hotter with the ruling by an arbitration panel in favor of the Philippines, who were objecting to China’s claims.

Also read: How 8 countries are preparing for war with Russia

The problem, of course, is that the ChiComs took a page from everyone’s favorite sociopath from “Game of Thrones” — one Cersei Lannister. They didn’t bother to show up for the arbitration proces, even though they had to have known the consequences. And they probably didn’t care.

In essence, what the McCain did was a freedom of navigation exercise. This sounds innocuous, but in reality it is only slightly less touchy than an invite from a samurai to take part in a “comparison of techniques.”

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) fires its MK-45 5-inch/54-caliber lightweight gun. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alonzo M. Archer/Released)

You see, a “freedom of navigation” exercise usually involves the American vessel operating in international waters that a certain country may not recognize as international waters. In essence, the United States is asserting: “No, these are international waters.”

It can get rough. In 1988, a freedom of navigation exercise off the coast of the Soviet Union in the Black Sea lead to a collision between USS Yorktown (CG 48) and a Krivak-class frigate.

What happened to the USS Yorktown was mild, though. Let’s go back more than 30 years to see how rough those exercises can really get.

In March of 1986, the Navy was sent to carry out some “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back against Moammar Qaddafi. In 1981, similar exercises had resulted in the downing of two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter” attack planes that took some ill-advised shots at Navy F-14s.

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), the Republic of Korea navy destroyer ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972), and the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Jeju (FF 958) participate in a joint exercise during Foal Eagle 2015. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

That was why three carriers, the USS Coral Sea (CV 43), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS America (CV 66) were involved in the 1986 round of “Freedom of Navigation” exercises.

On 23 March, the exercises began. The next day, the shooting started.

The Libyans started by firing SA-2 and SA-5 missiles at Navy F-14s. Shortly afterwards, MiG-23 “Floggers” tried to engage some Tomcats, but broke off after an intense dogfight.

By the end of the day, Libya had lost a new Nanuchka II-class corvette, a Combattante II-class missile boat, saw a Nanuchka and a Combattante II disabled, while several surface-to-air missile sites ended up being live-fire tests for the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).

Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast
Free to enter. 5 will win. Ends November 30, 2016

Fast forward to January 1989.

American forces were operating near the Gulf of Sidra when two MiG-23s came looking for a fight, and got shot down by a pair of F-14s. Once again, the “freedom of navigation” exercises had lead to shots being fired.

Something to keep in mind the next time you hear of such exercises. When sailors are sent there, they could find themselves in a fight.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information