Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care - We Are The Mighty
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Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

President Donald Trump signed a bill April 19 to temporarily extend a program that lets some veterans seek medical care in the private sector, part of an effort by the president to deliver on a campaign promise.


The extension will give Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin time to develop a more comprehensive plan to allow veterans to more easily go outside the VA health system for care. Under the bill Trump signed into law, the VA will be allowed to continue operating its Choice Program until the funding runs out, which is expected early 2018.

The program was scheduled to expire on Aug. 7 with nearly $1 billion left over.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
(Photo: VA)

Trump said veterans have “not been taken care of properly” and that the program will continue to be able to see “the doctor of their choice.”

“You got it? The doctor of their choice,” he repeated for emphasis.

Shulkin, who attended the bill signing, has said the money is needed to pay for stopgap services while he works on the longer-term plan. He said April 19 that the plan is due in the fall. Congress would have to approve any changes to the VA health system.

Shulkin said the extension is important because it gives veterans another avenue for care.

“It’s this approach where veterans can get care wherever they need it that really is the way that we’re going to address all the needs and honor our commitments to our veterans,” he said after Trump signed the bill.

The Choice Program was put in place after a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months to be scheduled for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center.

The program is intended to provide more timely care by allowing veterans to go outside the VA network only in cases where they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Yet the program itself often encountered long wait times of its own.

Also read: The VA might actually be getting its act together

The new law also calls for changes to alleviate some problems by speeding up VA payments and promoting greater sharing of medical records.

Major veterans’ organizations and Democrats support a temporary extension of the Choice Program, but are closely watching the coming VA revamp of the program for signs that the Trump administration may seek greater privatization. Those groups generally oppose privatization as a threat to the viability of VA medical centers.

Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to give veterans freedom to seek care “at a private service provider of their own choice.”

Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, commended Trump for upholding a campaign promise to make veterans a priority, but said more needed to be done. Lucas said the Choice Program was a well-intentioned “quick fix” to the Phoenix scandal, but that it remains flawed and has forced too many veterans to seek care at what he termed failing VA facilities.

“Congress now has some time to work with Secretary Shulkin on broader, more permanent choice reforms that will truly put the veteran at the center of their health care and remove VA bureaucrats as the middlemen,” Lucas said. “We look forward to supporting legislation that will let veterans go outside the VA for care when they want or need to.”

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., said more than 1 million veterans have made 7 million appointments with health care providers in their communities under the Choice Program. He said those appointments would have otherwise “lagged” in the VA scheduling system.

More than 1 million out of 9 million veterans in the VA system use some Choice care, with agency data pointing to even greater use this year.

McCain, a Navy veteran, said the extension “sends an important message that we will not send our veterans back to the status quo of unending wait-times for appointments and substandard care.” He said more work is needed, but called the legislation “an important first step.”

Shulkin has said he would like to expand veterans’ access to private care by eliminating the Choice Program’s current 30-day, 40-mile restrictions. At the same time, he wants the VA to work in partnership by handling all the scheduling and “customer service,” something that congressional auditors say could be unwieldy and expensive.

Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Watch: a Marine on Mt Everest, Syrian rebels taking on ISIS, and a badass Gurkha

Here’s a quick look at a few of our favorite stories of the week:


In early April 2016, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charlie Linville departed the U.S. with The Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz. Their destination was Nepal and their third attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the top of the world. Semper Fi!

The Syrian Democratic Forces coalition launched a new campaign to advance toward the ISIS capital at Raqqa.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYcqrT0nU0I

To say that Gurkhas are simply soldiers from Nepal would be a massive understatement. They are known for their exceptional bravery, ability, and heroism in the face of insurmountable odds. A great example is Dipprasad Pun, who singlehandedly held his post against more than 30 Taliban fighters.

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Sen. John McCain calls Gen. Mattis one of the ‘finest military officers of his generation’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) just released a glowing endorsement of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to serve as Defense Secretary.


In a statement released Monday, McCain called the 66-year-old retired four-star general “one of the finest military officers of his generation” who, he hopes, “has an opportunity to serve America again.”

Related: When Gen. James Mattis talks, we listen — and so should you

The senator knows Mattis quite well, since he serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. While he was in charge of Central Command and leading troops in Iraq, Mattis testified to that committee regularly.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
General Mattis speaks to Marines in 2007. | U.S. Marine Corps photo

“I am pleased that the President-elect found General Jim Mattis as impressive as I have in the many years I have had the privilege of knowing him. General Mattis is one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops. He is a forthright strategic thinker. His integrity is unshakable and unquestionable. And he has earned his knowledge and experience the old-fashioned way: in the crucible of our nation’s defense and the service of heroes,” McCain wrote in his statement.

“General Mattis has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the U.S. military, and our national security. I hope he has an opportunity to serve America again.”

Mattis is seen as a top contender for the position at the Pentagon. He met with President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday to discuss whether he might be interested in coming out of retirement to oversee roughly 3 million military and civilian personnel.

Afterward, Trump praised Mattis on Twitter as “a true General’s General” who was “very impressive.”

If he were tapped to be defense secretary, Mattis would need a waiver from Congress to take the position, since it requires a military officer to have been off active duty for at least seven years. Mattis retired in 2013.

Mattis currently splits his time between Stanford and Dartmouth as a distinguished fellow, conducting research and giving lectures on leadership and strategy.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Dir. of National Intelligence: Biggest US threats are cyber attacks

The director of national intelligence, as well as directors from various intelligence agencies, briefed the new Worldwide Threat Assessment to the Senate Intelligence Community Jan. 29, 2019, lining out the top international threats to the US.

Cyber threats from China and Russia and the loss of allies were highlighted as significant threats to the post-World War II world order. The report also directly contradicts White House statements on North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization and the defeat of ISIS.


Cyber threats, espionage, and election interference

“We anticipate that all our adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly build and integrate cyber espionage, attack, and influence capabilities into their efforts to influence US policies,” the report states.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Confirming Russian influence during the 2016 presidential election, Dan Coats, the national intelligence director, also reiterated that foreign groups tried to influence the 2018 US midterm elections — and stressed in his opening remarks to the Senate that the 2020 election remains the community’s top priority.

“We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests,” Coats said during the hearing. “We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each others’ experiences and efforts in previous elections.”

North Korea is stalling denuclearization — despite Trump’s assurances

The report highlights the stalling denuclearization in North Korea — something the Trump administration has been reluctant to admit as it has sought peace with leader Kim Jong Un.

“The [intelligence community] continues to assess that [North Korea] is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities,” the report states.

Although North Korea has not conducted any nuclear tests in over a year, its leaders maintain that the country’s nuclear capabilities are paramount to the survival of the regime, the intelligence assessment said. The White House acknowledged in January 2019 that progress had stalled in Pyongyang.

ISIS has lost nearly all of its territory, but has not been defeated


Although Trump maintained that his administration has dealt the final blow to the ISIS caliphate, his intelligence community still views the terrorist organization as a threat to the US.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

United States President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Michael Vadon)

The report highlights the thousands of ISIS fighters that remain in Iraq and Syria, and notes that while territorial expansion is unlikely, the group has developed an international network that spans across the eastern hemisphere. In the long term, ISIS will also use its social networking capabilities to exploit instability and “pursue external attacks” against the US, the report states.

Losing allies in Europe

“Some US allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to their perceptions of changing US policies on security and trade and are becoming more open to new bilateral and multilateral partnerships,” the report states.

Though not explicit, the report suggests that the Trump administration’s repeated anti-NATO sentiment may be driving allies away from the US — and warns that Russia and China are eager to embrace the partnerships Trump has been pushing away.

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

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3 reasons why Airwolf is more badass than the F-35

Okay, you’ve heard all the complaints about the F-35. It’s super-expensive. It’s got problems getting ready for combat. But in the real world, there’s no other option. And as WATM has already explained, the Marine Corps desperately needs to replace its F/A-18 Hornets.


Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
Airwolf about to blow through two bandits. (Youtube Screenshot)

But suppose, instead of blowing their RD money on the F-35, the Air Force, Navy, and Marines had decided to pull out File A56-7W and instead replicate Airwolf? They’d have gotten a much better deal – and it might even have helped the Army, too.

Airwolf’s specs (click here for another source) reveal this helicopter already took advantage of some stealth technology, had modern ECM systems and sensors, and very heavy armament (four 30mm cannon, two 40mm cannon, and various air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles). All in all, it’s very powerful, even if it was the brainchild of one of the big TV showrunners of the 1980s and 1990s.

So, why does it beat the F-35? Here are some of the reasons.

1. It can operate off any ship

With a top speed of over Mach 2, Airwolf may have the performance of a fighter jet, but it takes off and lands like a helicopter – without the need for the complex mechanisms used on the V-22 Osprey.

Think of it this way; with Airwolf in its hanger deck every surface combatant and amphibious ship could carry what amounts to a Generation 4.5 fighter. Even the Littoral Combat Ships could handle Airwolf, giving them a lot more punch in a fight than they currently have.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
Airwolf can land anywhere this MH-60R can land. (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sean M. Castellano)

2. It would replace more airframes than the F-35 would

The F-35 is replacing the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and A-10 Thunderbolt II in U.S. service. Airwolf not only would replace all four of those airframes, but it would also replace all of the AH-1 and AH-64 helicopters in Marine Corps and Army service. The promise of the TFX program as originally envisioned in the 1960s could be fulfilled at last!

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
A look at Airwolf’s ADF pod and chain guns. (Youtube Screenshot)

3. Better performance

According to an Air Force fact sheet, the F-35 has a top speed of Mach 1.6, a ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a range of 1,350 miles without refueling. Airwolf hits a top speed of Mach 2, a ceiling of 100,000 feet, and a range of 1,450 miles.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
Full-size replica of the Airwolf at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation, Sevierville, Tennessee. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In other words, Airwolf would have the F-35 beat in some crucial areas. Now, the F-35 might have an advantage in terms of payload (fixed-wing planes usually have that edge), but the fact remains, Airwolf would have been a very viable candidate for that competition – and might have had the edge, given that the Army would have bought airframes to replace the Apache.

Oh, and here’s the Season 1 opener, just for kicks:

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The Philippine Marines teach an old submachine gun new tricks

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
Philippine Naval Special Warfare Group members in 2009. The camouflaged commando at center left is carrying an M3. | U.S. Navy photo


War Is Boring and Historical Firearms recently posted a story about the use of suppressed M3 “Grease Gun” from World War II onward to Vietnam. U.S. forces stopped issuing the guns to troops in 1992, but at least one unit in The Philippine military believes that if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … much.”

The M3 SpecOps Generation 2 , also known as the M3 Gen2 or PN/PMC M3, is a modified, modern incarnation of the M3 grease gun built from pre-existing caches of the 1940s-era weapon. Used primarily for ship seizures and boarding operations, the weapon is the Philippine navy’s method of teaching an old dog new tricks.

Equipped with an integral suppressor and a Picatinny rail, the weapon is able to mimic some of the capabilities of modern submachine guns on a very tight budget. The weapon is chambered with the .45-caliber ACP bullet, which was itself developed as a U.S. counter to tough, close quarters jungle battles with Philippine insurgents more than a century ago.

Modern optics ranging from reflex sights to thermal imagers can be added to the weapon via the Picatinny rail, and the suppressor means that the subsonic .45 caliber bullets fired by the weapon lack both the supersonic “crack,” which occurs when high velocity rounds such as the M-16’s 5.56 breaks the sound barrier, and the notorious “blam” of igniting gunpowder.

Taken together, the weapons system provides a viable alternative to modern, hard-hitting submachine guns at a fraction of the price seen in current generation weapons.

The comparatively low cost of the PMC/PN M3, about 1/40th the cost of a modern UMP submachine gun, can not be overstated. The Philippines, while growing in terms of its economy, is by no means a rich country.

The purchase of modern firearms is often too expensive a proposition to undertake in a comprehensive manner, which has led to entire tactical elements of Philippine marines carrying unmodified, Vietnam-era M14s into major urban battles as recently as 2013.

Additionally, the PMC/PN often face security threats that can range from transnational insurgent groups to burgeoning superpowers in the space of less than a month. Every Philippine peso spent on a weapon customized for close-quarters infantry fighting is one that can’t be used on an anti-submarine helicopter, and vice versa.

This means that cheap, effective shortcuts to modern capabilities are more than just useful in The Philippines, they could be vital, and should stand as a lesson to be heeded by other countries facing war on a budget.

Articles

The North Korean nuclear threat is looming larger

The only nation to have used nuclear weapons this century will be able to strike Seattle in four years, former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said on Wednesday.


“I really do think that it is very likely by the end of Mr. Trump’s first term the North Korean’s will be able to reach Seattle with a nuclear weapon onboard an indigenously produced intercontinental ballistic missile,” Hayden said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Also read: As North Korea gets more ambitious with missiles, Japan looks to US for backup

“Now, will it be a high-probability shot, they have technical issues, so probably not. But then again, what kind of odds are you comfortable with when it comes to Pyongyang?” Hayden said.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

So far this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has conducted 25 ballistic-missile tests and two nuclear tests.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow of Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation and former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, says the North Korean threat isn’t four years away — it’s nearly here.

“Hayden is a bit behind the curve on the North Korea ICBM threat,” Klingner told Business Insider.

“After the December 2012 launch, the South Korean navy dredged up off the ocean floor the stages of the North Korean missile, Klingner explained. “South Korean and US officials assessed the missile had a 10,000 km range which covers a large part of the US.”

Fast forward to this year, on February 7, a month after North Korea’s purported hydrogen-bomb test, the rogue regime fired a long-range rocket it claimed was carrying a satellite for its space program.

The launch, which was largely viewed as a front for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, was not only successful but also showcased the North’s technological advancements.

“After the February 2016 launch, experts assessed it could have a range of 13,000 km, covering the entire US,” Klingner said, which makes the Seattle range estimate “outdated,” he added.

According to Klingner, even the rocket with a range of 10,000 km would compromise approximately 120 million people.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
A graphic showing the range of the North Korean rocket launched on February 7, 2016. | Courtesy of The Heritage Foundation

What’s more, in 2015, US commanders of US Forces Korea, Pacific Command, and North American Aerospace Defense Command publicly assessed that Pyongyang is able to strike to the US with a nuclear weapon.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The new Air Force Secretary is a trained astronaut – and so much more

It’s time to put your politics away for a moment and prepare yourselves for the most badass service secretary since Teddy Roosevelt left his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. President Trump nominated Ambassador Barbara Barrett to be the Air Force’s new civilian leader. She already has close ties to the Air Force as a former administrator at the FAA and board member of the Aerospace Corporation.

Even though outgoing SecAF Heather Wilson was an Air Force officer and Barrett has never served in the Air Force, Barrett is still an accomplished aviator, scholar, and astronaut.


I wanted to make a joke about how much more accomplished and awesome she is than every previous SecAF, but have you seen the resumes of these people? Air Force Secretaries are the real Illuminati.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

Except I guarantee Barbara Barrett can take all four of these guys in a fistfight.

Time will tell if Barrett will take the job. The lawyer turned Harvard-educated diplomat is probably busy heading the boards of some of the most influential and brilliant institutions of our time, including the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The Smithsonian Institution, and the RAND Corporation. But the former Ambassador to Finland founded the Valley Bank of Arizona, partnered at a large law firm in her native Arizona, and worked at the top levels for Fortune 500 companies before age 30 – at a time when many women were relegated to getting coffee for middle management.

But let’s talk about feats of strength and athleticism that will win her the respect of all the troops, not just the ones under her command. An accomplished aviator, Barrett was the first civilian woman to land an F/A-18 Hornet on an aircraft carrier, she’s an inductee in the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, and even trained with the Russians in Kazakhstan to be a backup astronaut on a 2009 international spaces station mission.

Back on Earth, she’s just as impressive. She climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania Barrett didn’t stop there. As Ambassador to Finland, she biked hundreds of kilometers all around the country.

That’s a service secretary you can get behind… which you’ll have to because most of us would have trouble keeping up.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Air Force pilot and his brother love adrenaline

Some families really do seem to be genetic gold mines — just take a look at these siblings who earned the Medal of Honor (or the Hemsworths, am I right?).


Greg Oswald and Eli Tomac are a couple of modern bad asses in their own right. Greg is a C-17 pilot for the U.S. Air Force and Eli just shredded the 2018 San Diego Supercross. I hate to go all Top Gun on you, but these guys obviously have a need for speed.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
You just know their parents are proud as hell.

“Motocross and Supercross, you’re just in it. We race in rain or shine. The noise from the four-stroke, and you’re in the dirt — it pushes you in every area, whether it’s physically or mentally, it’s the real deal.”

In 2010, Eli was the first rider in history to win his professional debut — since then, he’s continued to prove himself to be one of the fastest riders in the sport. In early 2018, he won his first Monster Energy Supercross, and his brother Greg was there to watch.

“I’m here to support Eli. If it’s a good day or a bad day, the overall goal is to just be a big brother to the guy in the track.”

Greg pointed out the connection between a pilot in his aircraft or a rider on the bike — they’re both about a man and his machine, but neither can do it alone. Pilots and riders require a crew to get their machines going.

“I’m out there as an entertainer [but with] the military…you can’t just go into work and say ‘Oh I’m tired, I’m not gonna ride today.’ You gotta get it done no matter what if you’re in the military so that’s something that I’ll never know…and that’s where I have the utmost respect for everyone that’s in, and that’s for my brother as well.”

Check out the video above to watch Monster’s coverage of Eli’s victory and hear the brothers talk about how they support each other.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Search underway for Marine lost overboard

An all-hands effort is underway to find a Marine believed to have gone overboard Aug. 8 during routine operations off the coast of the Philippines.

The Marine, who was aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was reported overboard at 9:40 a.m. The incident occurred in the Sulu Sea, according to a Marine Corps news release.


Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

A search and rescue swimmer aboard USS Chosin (CG 65) stands by in preparation for an underway replenishment with USNS John Ericsson.

(U.S. Navy photo by FC2 Andrew Albin)

The Marine’s family has been notified, but the service is withholding his or her identification while the search is ongoing.

The ship’s crew immediately responded to the situation by launching a search-and-rescue operation. Navy, Marine Corps, and Philippine ships and aircraft are all involved in the search, which will continue “until every option has been exhausted,” according to a post on the 13th MEU’s Facebook page.

“As we continue our search operation, we ask that you keep our Marine and the Marine’s family in your thoughts and prayers,” Col. Chandler Nelms, the MEU’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “We remain committed to searching for and finding our Marine.”
Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

A P-8 Poseidon flies over the ocean.

(US Navy)

Multiple searches have been conducted aboard the ship to locate the missing Marine as round-the-clock rescue operations continue in the Sulu Sea and Surigao Strait, according to the news release. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft and Philippine coast guard vessels have expanded the search area, covering roughly 3,000 square nautical miles.

“It is an all-hands effort to find our missing Marine,” Navy Capt. Gerald Olin, head of Amphibious Squadron One and commander of the search-and-rescue operation, said in a statement. “All of our Sailors, Marines, and available assets aboard the USS Essex have been and will continue to be involved in this incredibly important search-and-rescue operation.”

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group deployed last month from San Diego with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, becoming the first ARG to deploy from the continental United States with Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters aboard. The Essex is en route to the U.S. 5th Fleet, where the Marines’ new 5th-generation fighter may participate in combat operations in the Middle East for the first time.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @Militarydotcom on Twitter.

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4 awesome facts about Shaolin Kung Fu

Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the oldest and most intense forms of Chinese martial arts. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and a number of other martial arts movie stars have also made Kung Fu one of the most famous forms.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

As a part of a religious order, the Shaolin monks were persecuted by Chinese Communists during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. The temple was mostly destroyed and stayed that way for years. But when Jet Li made “Shaolin Shi,” it was enough to make Mao give in: the temple was rebuilt and some much-needed tourism revenue came in as Kung Fu made a comeback.

Here are a few things you may not have known about Kung Fu and the elite Shaolin Monks.

1. The founder of Shaolin Kung Fu was from India.

Legend has it that the founder of the Shaolin order, a Buddhist monk from India named Bodhidharma, spent nine years meditating in a cave near his monastery. The legend has it that to keep him from falling asleep, the monk cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
Pre-Workout would not be invented for another 1,500 years.

Green Tea began to grow from the spot where he threw his eyelids and now Buddhist monks use green tea to maintain their focus during meditation.

2. Kung Fu is studied in a “Kwoon.”

The word “dojo” is reserved for places that teach Japanese martial arts, like Aikido. When entering a kwoon, bow at a 45-degree angle with your hands at your chest — the right in a fist, and the left open-palm.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

This represents the yin and yang and that your heart is at peace.

3. Kung Fu practitioners wear a different uniform.

Again, much of the look of the loose-fitting gi and colored belts comes from the Japanese practice. Traditional Chinese Kung Fu doesn’t use colored belt levels (though some Western teachers might use them as a teaching tool). Chinese Kung Fu uses a uniform that is tight at the ankles and sometimes even at the wrists.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

4. The most elite Shaolin monk was a werewolf.

Ok, he wasn’t an actual werewolf. In the late 19th century lived a monk named Tai Jin. The poor guy suffered from a condition known as hypertrichosis. Also known as “Werewolf Syndrome” because of the insane amount of body hair that grows on affected areas.

It might have helped his self-esteem to know that, according to legend, he was the best fighter in all of China.

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care
No comfort for Chewbacca here.

Tai Jin was abandoned at the monastery as a baby because of his body hair. The monks raised him and trained him. He eventually dedicated himself to one form of martial art. Legend also has it that upon meeting the 12 masters of Shaolin, the boy threw a dagger into the ceiling, killing a would-be assassin. He explained to the masters that he could hear 13 people breathing, not just 12.

For more about the Shaolin monks and their founder, check out the above episode of Elite Forces.

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What’s the Commandant talking about when he says Marines need to be ‘spiritually’ fit?

Physically fit? Check. Mentally fit? Check. Spiritually fit? Hmm.


That could be the response from more Marines and even other military service members of this Millennial generation, as fewer troops are claiming a religion than those of previous decades.

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Time to get your ‘spirit’ on Marine! (USMC photo)

Earlier this month, Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, issued an all-hands message to encourage his men and women and Navy sailors assigned to their units to take note of their own “spiritual fitness.”

“During this time, I ask each of you to reflect on what you and the Marines and sailors you lead are doing to achieve and maintain an optimal level of strength and resilience. Your leaders and chaplains at all levels stand ready to engage with you in this task,” Neller, a veteran infantry officer entering his second year as the service’s top general officer, wrote in the Oct. 3 message. “By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our nation expects.”

The general’s mention of honorable warriors and model citizens – most Marines serve four to eight years and then return to civilian life – harkens to a generation ago. In the 1990s — with a military facing force cuts, ethical scandals and retention concerns — then-commandant Gen. Charles Krulak often spoke with Marines about the importance of integrity, having a “moral compass” and courage to do the right thing.

It wasn’t specifically directed at religion or spirituality but took a broad, holistic approach at building better “citizen-soldiers.”

In this generation, will that challenge to look inward at their spirituality, however they define it to be, resonate with Millennial Marines? And, if so, how?

If religious affiliation is any measure of that, military leaders might well be worried.

Last year, the Pew Research Center found that fewer Americans were identifying as religious. In its 2014 Religious Landscape Survey, the Pew Research Center found that 70.6 percent of Americans identified with a Christian-based religion, with “Evangelical Protestant,” “Catholic” and “Mainline Protestant” the top groups. Almost 6 percent claimed non-Christian faiths – Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, for example.

But almost 23 percent in the survey of 35,000 Americans said they were unaffiliated – known as “nones” – or nonbelievers, and 15.8 percent of them claimed no ties even to agnostics or atheists. That was a significant change from 2007, when 16 percent identified as “nones.”

The biggest group, 35 percent, among “nones” are Millennials, considered those born between 1981 and 1996, and “nones” as a whole “are getting even younger,” Pew found. It’s also an age group — 20 to 35 — that’s well represented within the military services.

So how will today’s Marines receive this latest message?

The Marine Corps hasn’t detailed just what the push for spiritual fitness will entail, but it’s described as part of leadership development and a holistic approach to overall fitness along with physical, mental and social wellness. The service’s deputy chaplain, Navy Capt. William Kennedy, said it wasn’t a program but “an engagement strategy to enable leaders at every level to communicate the importance of faith, values and moral living inside the Marine Corps culture of fitness.”

“Spiritual fitness is for everyone,” Kennedy said in an email response to WATM. “Every Marine has a position on matters of spirituality, belief in a higher being and religion. The individual Marine chooses if and how they will grow in spiritual fitness, enabling them to fulfill their duties successfully while deployed and in garrison.”

Scott said the Navy’s top chaplain Rear Adm. Brent Scott sent a letter to all Marine Corps’ chaplains, challenging them to “engage their commanders and the Marine Corps in conversations on spiritual fitness.”

A non-profit group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has criticized the Corps’ plan as an attempt to push religious, if not Christian, values on all Marines.

Mikey Weinstein, the group’s founder and president and a former Air Force lawyer, has threatened to sue the Marine Corps to stop it from mandating spiritual fitness training for every Marine rather than having it be voluntary. Weinstein told Military.com last week that the service’s plan to include spiritual fitness with some training and education courses is “nothing more than a Trojan Horse for fundamentalist Christians to proselytize to a captive audience.”

“If they call this ‘mental fitness,’ that’s great,” Weinstein told WATM. But while Marines are regularly tested in physical fitness and military proficiency, he said, “who gets to decide what Marines are spiritually fit?”

While troops can be required to sit through legal discussions with a judge advocate or medical training with medics, they can’t be required to attend teachings or preaching by unit chaplains, he said, citing separation of church and state. If the Marine Corps sets mandatory lectures, testing or measuring tools or classes that discuss things like faith or “a higher power,” for example, that will push it into religious beliefs and violate the constitutional prohibition against religious tests, Weinstein said.

“If they do it, they’ll be in court,” he said.

In 2010, MRFF threatened to sue the Army when it pushed out a similar assessment program on spiritual fitness for soldiers, and Weinstein said the service eventually revised it.

But “spiritual fitness” remains a popular concept around the military — a phrase that might seem to avoid any specific religion to many but still retains an element of a belief. The Air Force considers it one of its comprehensive fitness pillars, along with mental, physical and social. And spiritual fitness is often mentioned in programs to help build resiliency among troops, including those grappling with combat or post-traumatic stress and even in programs to strengthen relationships among military couples and families.

Navy chaplain Kennedy described spirituality generally as something “that gives meaning and purpose in life.” It also might “refer to the practice of a philosophy, religion or way of living,” he said. “For some this is expressed in commitment to family, institution or esprit de corps. For others, it may apply to application of faith.”

Military chaplains have the duty to advise commanders and service members on “spiritual matters.” They “are required to perform faith-specific ministries that do not conflict with the tenets or faith requirements of their religious organizations. Additionally, chaplains are required to provide or facilitate religious support, pastoral care and spiritual wellness to all service members, regardless of religious affiliation,” according to a July 2015 Defense Department Inspector General report on “rights of conscience protections” for troops and chaplains.

Weinstein, who said he’s Jewish but “not that religious,” said his group isn’t anti-religion and counts 48,000 active-duty troops among its members, with 98 percent who affiliate with a religion. Many supporters don’t want the military services telling them what or whether to believe, he said, adding that “thousands of military people [say] that’s my personal business.”

But is spiritual fitness inherently a part of something religious, or is it separate from a religious belief?

It may depend on who is defining it. A spiritual fitness guide briefing slide by the U.S. Navy Chaplains Corps, whose members advise Navy and Marine Corps units, describes spiritual fitness this way: “A term used to capture a person’s overall spiritual health and reflects how spirituality may help one cope with and enjoy life. Spirituality may be used generally to refer to that which gives meaning and purpose in life. The term may be used more specifically to refer to the practice of a philosophy, religion or way of living.”

Would having no religious affiliation or belief render one without spirituality? For some Leathernecks, the Marine Corps itself is like a religion, with its own spirituality that “non-believers” – like POGs or people-other-than-grunts – can’t understand.

The Marines’ own institutional bible, so-to-speak, the warfighting publication “Leading Marines,” stated in its 1995 edition: “This manual is based on the firm belief that, as others have said in countless ways, our Corps embodies the spirit and essence of those who have gone before. It is about the belief, shared by all Marines, that there is no higher calling than that of a United States Marine.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to correct attribution from the Marine Corps Deputy Chaplain.

MIGHTY FIT

5 chest exercises that you should never forget

In the gym world, Mondays are known as “International Chest Day.” Many believe that the chest is the focal point of a perfect physique, so, to start your week off right, you need to work out those muscles first. Having a well-trained chest tends to draw wandering eyes wherever you go — and who doesn’t want that positive attention?

Now, doing a few dozen push-ups is a good start, but it isn’t going to give you that fully defined look that most people want. It takes solid form, controlled movements, and a continual introduction of new exercises to achieve maximum results.


Since our bodies are amazing at adapting, switching up our workouts is an essential aspect to achieving continued growth. You can do a variety of movements to get a good pump, but remember, it’s all about how long you keep the muscle under tension. That’s the best way to get those muscles to bulk up or lean out.

So, warm up for a few minutes with some cardio and let’s hit chest!

Also Read: 5 back exercises that can cure ‘ILS’

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Decline dumb bell press

In terms of defining your lower chest, the decline dumb bell press is one of the best. Carefully position yourself on a decline bench and start the movement by holding manageable weights just above the outside part of your chest. Once you’re ready, take a breath and use your chest muscles to push the weights up, centering them.

While slowly exhaling, lower the weights back down toward your body and stop as your forearms and biceps form 90-degree angles. Congrats! You just correctly executed a decline dumb bell press.

Note: Use a spotter if you’re using heavy weight during this exercise.

Now, do three to five more sets of eight to twelve reps each.

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Close grip dumb bell press

This one’s perfect to rip your inner chest.

As you lay back onto the bench (flat or incline), bring the weights up over your chest and hold them together. With the dumb bells continuing to touch one another, lower them down in a controlled manner toward your sternum. Stop when the weights are about an inch above your chest. Do not bounce the weights off your upper torso — that’s cheating.

Use all your might and explode the weights back up the sky to their original position. Nicely done!

As always, aim for three to five sets of eight to twelve reps each.

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Single-arm dumb bell chest press

This exercise will make you realize just how heavy the weights can be — even at a low load. Grab a manageable dumb bell in one hand (start small), and position yourself on the center of the bench. Once you’re ready, take a breath and use your chest muscles to push the weight up and center it.

Next, slowly lower the dumb bell back down toward your outer chest and stop as your arm forms a 90-degree angle. You’ll probably notice that, even when using a low weight, this movement isn’t as easy as you thought. The asymmetrical nature of this exercise helps improve your stabilizer muscles. An off-kilter load requires more than just your chest to lift, making it feel much harder — but it will help build more muscle when done correctly.

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Reverse-grip dumbbell bench press

While positioned on either a flat or incline bench, grab a weight and rotate your wrists so your fingers are pointed toward your face. Once you’re ready to press, use those chest muscles to push the weight up while slowly exhaling.

Lower the weights back down toward your body and, as always, stop as your arms form 90-degree angles. That’s all there is to it.

You know the drill: Push out three to five sets of eight to twelve reps each.

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Decline push-ups

This is one of the best and most under-utilized exercises of all time. This movement can be done practically anywhere and will help define the upper chest big time. As with all push-ups, you’ll get the best results by using perfect form and going at a slow pace.

The rep count for decline push-ups is simple: Go until you hit failure.

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