A British F-35 pilot has pulled off what the Royal Navy called a “milestone” maneuver, executing a backward landing on the deck of Britain’s largest warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The Royal Air Force test pilot Squadron Leader Andy Edgell flew his American-made F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter across the bow of the large British aircraft carrier.
The pilot then brought the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft to a hover over the deck before gently setting it down, the Royal Navy said in a statement Nov. 19, 2018. He said the F-35 jump jet “handled beautifully.”
The aviation achievement is intended to give the carrier crew additional options in the event of an emergency. Given the nature of the aircraft, the landing was not radically different from more conventional alternatives.
An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter landing on the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
(Royal Navy photo)
The British Royal Navy said this atypical landing was like “driving the wrong way down a one-way street.” Reflecting on the maneuver, Edgell said, “It was briefly bizarre to bear down on the ship and see the waves parting on the bow as you fly an approach aft facing.”
“It was also a unique opportunity fly towards the ship, stare at the bridge, and wonder what the captain is thinking,” he added.
This maneuver, like the previously executed conventional landings and rolling landings, was part of a nine-week intensive training program that began off the US east coast.
An F-35B Lightning II above the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 25, 2018.
(UK Ministry of Defense)
The first landing was carried out Sept. 25, 2018, when Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray landed an F-35B on the deck of the carrier. It marked the first time in eight years that an aircraft had landed on a British carrier. The UK had previously acquired the F-35, and its new carrier set sail in 2017. The combination of the two was championed as the dawn of a new era for British sea power.
Commodore Andrew Betton, the commander of the UK carrier strike group, called it “a tremendous step forward in reestablishing the UK’s carrier strike capability.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Ingenuity and collaboration were the keys to success as a group of Air Force Research Laboratory engineers took a series of tests to new heights.
At the request of NASA, AFRL rapid-response systems support researchers delved into the realm of space to help determine the effects of unintended electrical arcing on astronaut space suits during extravehicular maintenance.
NASA researchers came to the AFRL team with a simple question. How does an electrical arc behave in a vacuum? Although this may seem like a fairly simple question, it was a concept that had not been explored fully before.
“What was not understood were the ramifications of an arc in space,” said Brett Jordan, electrical and electronic materials evaluation team lead. “What are the mass and velocity of the particles produced by the arcing, and what would be the effects of those metal particles flying off the arc in that environment?”
To answer this question, AFRL began by determining how to build fixtures for a low-pressure test and performing proof-of-concept testing to determine the best method to reliably create an arc in the planned lab setting. This initial series of tests helped the researchers understand the materials, positioning and current needed to successfully generate the arc, as well as the proper test setup to use for an Earth-orbit vacuum environment.
The Air Force Research Laboratory materials evaluation team generates an electrical arc fault in a vacuum chamber in support of a NASA research effort to determine the effects of arcing in Earth-orbit conditions.
With this initial data in hand, the team then began to prepare for low-pressure testing. Reaching out to fellow AFRL materials and electronics researchers, the team acquired a low-pressure chamber and secured a laboratory for conducting the tests.
“It really was a team effort,” said Corey Boltz, electrical engineer and project lead. “We received assistance from many different teams throughout AFRL to make this happen.”
After another round of experimental tests and setup, the team was ready to begin the final round of testing and data collection. With the assistance of NASA engineers, the AFRL team performed a series of 35 tests in the low-pressure chamber. Each test run was a careful exercise in control and precision. For each individual test, the team followed a rigorous process that involved precise placement of the test fixture, calibration of multiple high-speed data capture cameras and pumping the chamber down to extreme low-pressure atmospheric conditions.
The team completed the tests quickly, despite the complex setup required between each test run. From start to finish, the low-pressure test runs were completed in nine days. Jordan says this was possible because the AFRL test chamber offered capabilities that were not immediately available to the NASA team. Because of the chamber’s design, its pressure could be lowered to the necessary test conditions in about half the time it takes a typical chamber to achieve the same conditions. As a result, more test runs could be completed in a shorter period of time.
“For us, it was all part of our rapid-response mission, and the customer appreciated that quick turnaround,” Boltz said.
The data gathered from the testing provided important data that NASA is using to structure their own set of tests.
“This data-rich testing enabled the optimization of tests being performed at three other facilities, which are adding various other factors related to the extra vehicular activity scenario,” said Amri Hernandez-Pellerano, NASA technical lead. “The AFRL pathfinder tests enabled us to properly plan resources in this study.”
Jordan added that since these tests were the first space vacuum work the group had performed, the testing event benefited AFRL as well by expanding the base of knowledge for electrical arcing in low-pressure environments. He said the data and processes established will be useful for the project researchers and other AFRL teams as they tackle future endeavors.
“As the systems support rapid reaction team, that’s what we do,” said Jordan. “We’re proud of our mission. We take it seriously, we enjoy it, and when we need to come up with good answers quickly, we make it happen quickly.”
The leadership at Glock Inc. says that the US Army’s decision to select Sig Sauer to make its new Modular Handgun System was driven by cost savings, not performance. The gun maker is also challenging the Army to complete the testing, which the service cut short, to see which gun performs better.
Two weeks have passed since the Government Accountability Office released the findings behind its decision to deny Glock Inc.’s protest of the Army’s MHS decision.
Now Josh Dorsey, vice president of Glock Inc., said that Glock maintains that the Army’s selection of Sig Sauer was based on “incomplete testing” and that Sig Sauer’s bid was $102 million lower than Glock’s.
“This is not about Glock. This is not about Sig. And it’s not about the US Army,” Dorsey, a retired Marine, told Military.com. “It’s about those that are on the ground, in harm’s way.”
It comes down to “the importance of a pistol, which doesn’t sound like much unless you realize, if you pull a pistol in combat, you are in deep s***.”
Dorsey maintains that the Army selected Sig Sauer as the winner of the MHS competition without conducting the “heavy endurance testing” that is common in military and federal small arms competitions.
Military.com reached out to both the Army and Sig Sauer for comment on this story, but the service did not respond by press time.
The Army awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million January 19. Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America, and Beretta USA, maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol, in the competition for the Modular Handgun System program.
The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol to replace the M9s and compact M11s in the inventory.
The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. The decision formally ended the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.
From January to September 2016, the Army conducted what Dorsey calls initial, phase one testing and not “product verification testing described in the solicitation” which is the only way to determine which of the MHS entries meets the Army’s requirements for safety, reliability and accuracy, according to Glock’s legal argument to the GAO.
On August 29, 2016, the Army “established a competitive range consisting of the Glock 9mm one-gun proposal and the Sig Sauer 9mm two-gun proposal, according to the GAO’s findings.
Dorsey argues that the GAO’s description of “competitive range” means the both Glock’s and Sig Sauer’s submissions “are in fact pretty much the same.”
But the GAO describes Sig Sauer 320 as having lower reliability than Glock 19 on page 11, footnote 13 of its findings.
“Under the factor 1 reliability evaluation, Sig Sauer’s full-sized handgun had a higher stoppage rate than Glock’s handgun, and there may have been other problems with the weapon’s accuracy,” GAO states.
To Dorsey, that “says it all.”
“When you have stuff in the GAO report that says their stoppage rate is higher than ours — that’s a problem,” Dorsey said.
Sig Sauer’s $169.5 million bid outperformed Glock’s $272.2 million bid, according to GAO, which made the Sig Sauer proposal the “best value to the government.” The Army’s initial announcement of the contract award to Sig Sauer described the deal as being worth up to $580 million, but the reason for the discrepancy is not clear.
“So one of the least important factors as they said in the RFP would be the price; that is what became the most important factor,” Dorsey said.
“So let’s think about that for a minute … you are going to go forward making that decision now without completing the test on the two candidate systems that are in the competitive range? Does that make sense if it’s your son or daughter sitting in that foxhole somewhere?”
Glock also argued that the Army’s testing only went up to 12,500 rounds when the “service life of the selected pistol is specified to be 25,000 rounds,” according to Glock’s legal argument to GAO.
“We are not asking for them to overturn Sig,” Dorsey said. “All we ask is for them to continue to test, so that the Army can be ensured that it has the best material solution for its soldiers. Make it fair, make it full and open; transparent and let’s see where the chips fall.”
“Fundamentally, Glock is going to continue to do what we always do. It is never over for us. It’s always on those that go into harm’s way and as long as they are in harm’s way, we will continue to knock on doors and offer the best material solution to the handgun requirement because in my heart, I believe we do have the best material solution.”
Navy Veteran Gabriel George came to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in 2018 filled with energy and excitement. Returning for his second time to the clinic, George says his first time at the clinic was life-changing.
He joined the Navy in July 2004 where he served as a corpsman and deployed twice.
A few weeks after arriving home from his second deployment, he was involved in a devastating motorcycle accident. While heading home from bible study, a car pulled out in front of him. He awoke three weeks later in a hospital to find he had broken his C2 and C5 vertebrae, six ribs, his collar bone and scapula; he had collapsed both his lungs; suffered a traumatic brain injury; and permanently paralyzed his right arm.
After the injury, George says he spent a lot of time living on the couch and watching tv.
initially, he had low expectations at the clinic, and thought his paralyzed arm would prevent him from doing many activities.
“No way. I can’t do that,” he said, when he learned archery would be one of the sports he’d be introduced to.
But instructors showed him how to draw the bow by biting down on a mouth tab, and with that first pull and release of the arrow something woke within him.
Navy Veteran Gabriel George returned for his second time to participate in the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. George says the clinic got him moving and off the couch after suffering injuries from a motorcycle accident.
After archery, he went to sailing. As a Navy Veteran, George had lived aboard ship, but he’d never sailed a small vessel. He found the experience exhilarating, and says he felt connected with the water, pulling lines and working the sail.
“(It’s) at the top of the list of healing. Being able to find something you can do, moving just one body part, the rest of the body wants to follow and move too,” George said.
By the end of his first clinic, he was looking for a way to extend the experience. With Blunk’s help, George signed up for a sailing clinic near his home in Florida before the week in San Diego was finished.
“The very next morning I went out and found an archery shop and bought a bow,” he said about the moments after he arrived home.
Blunk says George’s experience is similar to many of the Veterans she’s seen benefit from adaptive sports therapy.
“Often I hear so many people saying I can’t do that. And then once they do try, it’s healing,” she said. “Once a Veteran sees they can do one sport they are inspired to keep trying other sports.”
George continues to participate in sports programs whenever and wherever he can.
“I was doing nothing before the (National Veterans) Summer Sports Clinic,” he said. “I bought a house and I don’t know why, because now, I’m never home.”
US troops deployed to the US-Mexico border will remain there until at least the end of September 2019, the Pentagon revealed in an emailed statement Jan. 14, 2019.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the beginning of 2019 has approved Department of Defense assistance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Sept. 30, 2019.
The decision was made in response to a DHS request submitted in late December 2018.
The initial deployment, which began in October 2018 as “Operation Faithful Patriot” (since renamed “border support”), was expected to end on Dec. 15, 2018. The mission had previously been extended until the end of January 2019.
U.S. Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California, Nov.30, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Valetski)
Thousands of active-duty troops, nearly six thousand at the operation’s peak, were sent to positions in California, Texas, and Arizona to harden points of entry, laying miles and miles of concertina wire. The number of troops at the southern border, where thousands of Central American migrants wait in hopes of entering the US, has dropped significantly since the operation began.
The Department of Defense is transitioning the support provided from securing ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection activities, according to the Pentagon’s emailed statement. Troops will offer aviation support, among other services.
Shanahan has also given his approval for deployed troops to put up another 115 miles of razor wire between ports of entry to limit illegal crossings, according to ABC News.
U.S. Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, secure concertina and barbed wire near the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Port of Entry in California, Nov. 29, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Asia J. Sorenson)
The extension of the border mission was expected after a recent Cabinet meeting. “We’re doing additional planning to strengthen the support that we’re providing to Kirstjen and her team,” Shanahan said, making a reference to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Military.com reported early January 2019.
“We’ve been very, very closely coupled with Kirstjen,” he added. “The collaboration has been seamless.”
The cost of the Trump administration’s border mission, condemned by critics as a political stunt, is expected to rise to 2 million by the end of this month, CNN reported recently.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Sometimes you just know something’s not right. You feel a twinge in the pit of your gut, a growing sense of uneasiness, and you start to notice things that you wouldn’t normally notice. Is that guy acting weird or am I just being paranoid? You ask yourself before dismissing the thought. Come on, nothing’s gonna happen in this neighborhood.
Despite the headlines saturating every media outlet in the country, the United States is (statistically speaking) an overwhelmingly safe place to live. Regardless of our ever-present concerns about violent crime, mass shootings, and terror attacks, the likelihood that you’ll find yourself faced with a violent end are far lower than you’ll find throughout much of the world… and as a result, Americans are at a disadvantage when it comes to cultivating a high level of situational awareness.
Instead, Americans tend to develop what’s called a normalcy bias. Put simply, normalcy bias is our natural inclination to shrug away concerns about potential threats, because we’ve developed a deep-seated sense of what’s normal.
I’m sure these guys are just waiting for an Uber.
(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti, US Army)
Our minds are evolutionarily hard-wired to assess and prioritize risks, and after decades of living in a world where you’ve never faced an active shooter or a terror attack, our brains tend to file those potential threats way in the back, after more pressing concerns like crashing our cars or falling down the stairs. The sheer unlikelihood that we could find ourselves in the middle of a fight for our lives just tends to make us ignore those fights until they’ve already landed right in our laps.
Normalcy bias manifests as a delay in our processing of what’s going on around us, as we hush away our gut instincts and dismiss our seemingly “unfounded” concerns as paranoia. In a nutshell, it’s our way of clinging to reality as we’ve come to know it through a lifetime of nervous twinges that we’ve ignored, followed by confirmations that we were safe. Those times you hesitated before dragging your trash can through the dark alley behind your house growing up helped you to overcome a fear of the dark, but also helped to establish a bias toward dismissing your concerns about what could be a threat.
Instead of dismissing your nervousness about dark alleys, listen to your gut and be objective about any potential threats.
That intellectual buffer is the source of normalcy bias. We discount concerns that seem unlikely and scold ourselves for being afraid of the dark, but those gut feelings are often actually the sum of a series of parts assembled subconsciously by the incredible, pattern recognizing computers we call our brains. The evidence of a threat may not be irrefutable, but something has our hair standing on end. We dismiss it as a product of our overactive imaginations and eventually, this even stalls our ability to process real evidence of threats; as they break through the cognitive barriers between what our lives have been to this point and what they are about to become.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to overcome the mental inhibitors of normalcy bias: simply practice maintaining an objective mindset when it comes to threats. When you catch yourself dismissing concerns about a bulge in the waistband of the rowdy drunk at the bar or the chances something dangerous could be waiting for you at the other end of a dark alley, stop and put some real thought into your situation instead of allowing normalcy bias to silence the warning bells in your head.
I snapped this photo of the closest rooftop to us with my phone as we got out of dodge.
While in Alexandria, Egypt with my wife a few years ago, we were given a tour of a large building near the city’s port. As our tour reached the roof, our tour guide left us to enjoy the views and see ourselves out at our leisure, but before we could really take in the sights, I noticed a two-man sniper team perching themselves on a nearby roof. A bit further down the closed road to the port, I saw another team moving into position as well, and then another.. Chances were good that these guys were members of law enforcement preparing security for an arrival, or port security conducting training. Honestly, we’ll never know–because the minute I spotted what could be a sign of impending trouble, I made the decision that we were leaving.
I never heard any news about something terrible happening at that port in Alexandria that day, but as an American traveling overseas with my adorable (but not all that good in a fight) wife, I try my best to avoid situations that involve armed overwatch from guys that aren’t wearing Old Glory on their shoulders.
Overcoming normalcy bias isn’t about living in a constant state of paranoia, but rather about listening to your gut and making a rational decision. Sometimes the things we perceive as threats are nothing more than bumps in the night… but when those bumps in the night are caused by real people that mean you harm, it pays to trust your gut.
America’s troops have very awesome tactical gear, even through all the teething problems that systems like the F-35 Lightning II have had.
That said, all that gear can’t win a war unless you can come up with a good plan.
During a walk-through demonstration given by Lockheed Martin at the 2017 AirSpaceCyber expo held at National Harbor, Maryland, the company explained how the technology and capabilities of mission planning are set to take a huge step forward.
But what’s it like now?
The present state of integrating the air, land, maritime, space, and cyber components in the military was described as a series of stovepipes by Kim Ponders of Lockheed Martin’s famous Skunk Works.
Hiccups with this integration sometimes means that different components go after the same target.
In essence, a JDAM dropped from a F-35 could very well hit an SA-20 command vehicle that was already fried by a cyber attack, and the site then gets hits by Tomahawk cruise missiles, even though the missiles are useless without a command vehicle.
While there are times that overkill can help, there are circumstances — like a target-rich environment or when you are short of munitions — where overkill can be a problem.
In essence, this helps network 4th-generation fighters with the 5th-generation fighters without compromising the stealth of the F-22s and F-35s. During that exercise, the Einstein Box was placed on one of the early successes of the Skunk Works, the U-2 Dragon Lady.
This merging of systems ranging from the F-22 Raptor to destroyers and cruisers equipped with Aegis to the control system for the Tactical Tomahawk cruise missile to the Space-Based Infrared System will eventually make it a lot harder to the bad guys, largely because American (and allied) troops will be able to pass information to each other much faster than before.
By being able to pass the information faster, American troops will be able to rapidly pair platforms with targets. This will help them make the most of their assets on the scene. Lockheed even has teamed up with Raytheon and SRC to design a new JSTARS that could carry out MDC2.
This means that in the future, the pilot of a F-35 could detect a radar emission, and other assets (either special operation forces on the ground or a satellite) could very quickly tell that pilot whether the emitter is real or a decoy, how far it is from the van, and the pilot can then address the threat, or be told that another asset will handle it. Rapidly getting that information to everyone will eventually help save the lives of American troops, and that’s a very good thing.
A female lance corporal has requested a lateral move into an infantry “military occupational specialty,” the first to do so of more than 200 enlisted female Marines who have successfully completed training for combat jobs, according to a report by Marine Corps Times.
The female Marine’s name hasn’t been released, however. “Since this recent request is still being processed, that’s all the information we can offer at the moment,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Philip Kulczewski told the Times.
“These requests take time, and to help put things in perspective, lateral-move processes involve counseling, reviewing physical readiness, completing resident Professional Military Education, individual performance, competiveness in MOS and ultimately needs of the Marine Corps,” Kulczewski said in an email to Marine Corps Times. “This process ensures the Marine Corps will adhere to its standards and will continue its emphasis on combat readiness.”
Meanwhile the Corps is deploying a Mobile Training Team in May to explain to units how the service’s gender integration plan is going to be executed. “This isn’t sensitivity training,” Kulczewski said.
All of this comes on the heels of edicts laid down by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus regarding eliminating whatever barriers remain to females serving throughout the military, regardless of warfare specialty.
Earlier this week while speaking at Camp Pendleton in California Mabus addressed concerns that standards will be lowered to accommodate females, but as he did he seemed to hedge his bet by saying that change could be a function of “circumstances in the world.”
“I will never lower standards,” Mabus said. “Let me repeat that: Standards will not be lowered for any group. Standards may be changed as circumstances in the world change, but they’ll be changed for everybody.”
We all know that Marines win our nation’s battles, and their discipline under pressure is a matter of life or death. However, and as weird as it may seem, there is a lot that the driving range and the fairway can teach us about winning battles. I know because I recently joined my friend Marine Major Ben Ortiz and his fellow golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang, for a round at the Desert Winds golf course on Marine Corps Base Twentynine Palms.
Major Ben Ortiz or, ‘Bennie Boy’ as I call him, have known each other since our first days at the Naval Academy. I already know what you’re thinking… of course, two Academy grads and officers are golfers. But literally, nothing could be further from the truth. Golf was never supposed to be part of either of our lives.
“Seriously, dude? You play golf, now?” I ask a little sarcastically as Bennie and I walk to the clubhouse.
Bennie is a Mustang (an officer who was enlisted first), and he grew up in a neighborhood outside of Chicago where even the mention of golf could get you ridiculed for life or worse. After joining the Marines he deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan where he’s been a kind of intelligence officer that grunts love and terrorists hate. So when he asked me to play golf with him, I immediately started to question his mental state.
“Dude, you have no idea. Golf has made me a better Marine. More focused…lethal.” Bennie smiles as he justifies why we are on a golf course at 0730.
Major Ortiz tees off with focus
As we approach the clubhouse, I meet a squad of Marines who have been recruited to play with us this morning, but we are also joined by a true golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang. Erik is a bit of an anomaly himself. He never picked up a club until his thirties, and now he travels the world for his seriesAdventures In Golf. At first, I am a little wary that Erik, who looks a little like he just rolled out of bed, can compete with the Marines on their home turf. But after watching Erik tee off with a nearly 350-yard drive down the center of the first hole, I realize that I am not only watching a true golfer but a sniper.
As Bennie, Erik, and I walk the desert course we begin to chat about the game and the Marine Corps. At each hole, I realize the golfers are fighting the terrain, the weather and even their own subconscious, an enemy more elusive than the adversaries Bennie and other Marines face abroad. As we near the end of the course, Bennie begins to explain his theory a little more.
“Intel is all about collecting and analyzing information and then turning it into something useful for the Grunts. A lot of people think that bad intel is a result of bad information, but there is a second and even more important component, the analyst. If I am distracted or unfocused, I can be the weak link. Golf, and the battle on each hole, has taught me about mental and physical discipline.”
Major Ortiz (4th from left) and Erik Lang (center) after a round of golf.
Erik smiles and nods in agreement. He knows the mental strength it takes to master the club. After a quick competition on the driving range, which Erik (the sniper) wins, we sit down in the chow hall for an After Action of the morning’s performance. Bennie has changed out of his golf clothes and into cammies, and Erik begins to explain to us how Tiger Woods inspired him to pick up a club.
“Not everyone is perfect in golf,” Erik starts. “He’s human, he’s obviously made mistakes, but if you watch carefully you can see how he processes the course and the ball with each shot.”
Erik’s got a point. Now, I am pretty sure that when Tiger Woods stepped onto the 18th green, poised to win the 2019 Masters, there was almost nothing going through his mind other than the basics of putting. In the seconds before Tiger’s final stroke, there was no time for self-doubt, fear or even distractions from the thousands standing around him and the millions watching all across the globe. With one quick putt, Tiger was back on top of the world and his pure calmness, poise, and discipline under such pressure is something we all can admire, especially Marines like me.
But unlike Tiger, Marines must use these same attributes for something much bigger than a green jacket. Now, I begin to see what both Bennie and Erik are stressing to me. Golf is a sport of discipline and focus which can extend beyond the course and onto the most stressful battlefields abroad.
Bennie now speaks to the group before we roll out for the day.
“I hope that other Marines will realize that the course is much more than a game. It’s about training too.”
I think Bennie’s onto something that both Erik Lang and Tiger Woods already know: maybe we can all be better Marines if we spend a little time on the course.
Major Ortiz (left) and the Author (right) after our round of golf. Bennie’s war face is the same from Quantico.
Five hundred and forty-eight Department of Veterans Affairs employees have been terminated since President Donald Trump took office, indicating that his campaign pledge to clean up “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States” by relentlessly putting his TV catch phrase “you’re fired” into action was more than just empty rhetoric.
Another 200 VA workers were suspended and 33 demoted, according to data newly published by the department as part of VA Secretary David Shulkin’s commitment to greater transparency. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers, and 25 physicians.
Also disciplined were a program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability Office, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chief of police, and a chief of surgery.
Many housekeeping aides and food service workers — lower-level jobs in which the department has employed felons and convicted sex offenders — were also fired.
Scores of veterans have died waiting for care while VA bureaucrats falsified data to procure monetary bonuses, but fixes have been slow to come by largely because the union that represents VA employees has used its political muscle with Democrats to emphasize job security for government employees.
Former President Barack Obama originally appointed Shulkin as a VA undersecretary. By the end of the Obama administration, however, Shulkin had grown increasingly frustrated with the American Federation of Government Employees union and other groups defending bad employees’ supposed right to a government check even when they hurt veterans.
“Just last week we were forced to take back an employee after they were convicted no more than three times for DWI and had served a 60 day jail sentence … Our accountability processes are clearly broken,” Shulkin said at the White House.
In addition to reluctance by managers to vigorously pursue firings, the overturning of firings after the fact by the Merit Systems Protection Board — often with little public acknowledgment — has been a longstanding problem.
Shulkin asked for new legislation that reduces the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in answer, and Trump signed the bill in June.
The published data predates those new powers, and does not note which disciplinary actions were later overturned.
One record shows a “senior leader” being removed January 20, while another record shows a “senior leader” being demoted April 21. Those appear to refer to the same person — disgraced Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin — who returned to work in a lesser job after he appealed to the MSPB.
Former Obama Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald seemed to have so little grasp on firing employees that in August 2016, he said that he had fired 140,000 employees, a figure that made little sense since that would be nearly half the workforce.
Former Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin. DoD Photo by Joseph Rivera Rebolledo.
He said “you can’t fire your way to excellence” and blamed “negative news articles” for a morose culture, rather than the individuals perpetrating the misconduct described in those articles.
Though high-level hospital officials were affected, according to the data covering the first six months of the Trump administration, relatively few disciplinary actions occurred in the central offices where Washington bureaucrats work. Those employ fewer people than the hospitals, but repeated scandals have also shown such employees looking out for one another to preserve each others’ jobs.
There were five firings in the Veterans Health Administration Central Office, including one senior leader. There were also two in the Office of General Counsel, and one in the office of Congressional and Legislative affairs.
The data does not include employees’ names, and does not show which employees were on new-employee probationary status. Employees can be fired much more easily during their first year.
During the Obama administration, McDonald lamented that in the private sector “you cut a deal with the employee and you’re able to buy them out,” but said you cannot do that in government.
Yet VA repeatedly made five and six-figure payments to bad employees to get them to quit after they threatened to gum up the works by appealing disciplinary actions. The department even allowed Hamlin to offer a low-level employee $300,000 to quit after she refused to help management retaliate against a whistleblower who exposed Hamlin’s arrest.
The agency paid more than $5 million in settlements to employees under McDonald, which had the effect of encouraging bad employees to relentlessly appeal and make unsupported charges of discrimination when they were targeted for discipline, in an often-successful attempt to convert punishment into reward.
Shulkin said he “will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged … and not as a matter of ordinary business.”
The Veterans Affairs home loan can be incredibly confusing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information found on the VA website. So we have broken it down into six basic questions for you: who, what, when, where, why, and how?
*As always, when making decisions that impact your personal finances, make sure you’re sitting down with a financial advisor. Most banks have financial advisors on staff who are always willing to work with customers.
The VA home loan program is a benefit for eligible service members and veterans to help them in the process of becoming homeowners by guaranteeing them the ability to acquire a loan through a private lender.
Utilizing the VA home loan, lendees do not make a down payment and are not required to pay monthly mortgage insurance, though they are required to pay a funding fee. This fee varies by lender, depends on the loan amount, and can change depending on the type of loan, your service situation, whether you are a first time or return lendee, and whether you opt to make a down payment.
The fee may be financed through the loan or paid for out of pocket, but must be paid by the close of the sale.
The fee for returning lendees and for National Guard and members of the reserve pay a slightly higher fee.
The fee may also be waived if you are:
a veteran receiving compensation for a service related disability, or
a veteran who would be eligible to receive compensation for a service related disability but does not because you are receiving retirement or active duty pay, or
are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service related disability.
Lendees may utilize the loan program during or after honorable active duty service, or after six years of select reserve or National Guard service.
Veterans Affairs helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses to purchase a home. The VA home loan itself does not come from the VA, but rather through participating lenders, i.e. banks and mortgage companies. With VA guaranteeing the lendee a certain amount for the loan, lenders are able to provide more favorable terms.
Eligible lendees should talk to their lending institution as each institution has its own requirements for how to acquire the loan.