MIGHTY TRENDING

Private Care Program allegedly enriched companies and hurt vets

For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.


Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.

The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.

“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.

Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicidesand upgrading electronic medical records.

A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.

One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.

TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”

Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.

Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.

In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.

Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.

Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.

(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.

In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.

One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.

In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.

But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.

The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.

Senator John McCain.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.

The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.

The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.

Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.

Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.

Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.

Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.

John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.

“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.

Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.

(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)

After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.

Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.

The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.

The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.

The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.

TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.

The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.

“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”

The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.

“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”

Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.

“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”

The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.

David Shulkin.

But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.

TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.

In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”

Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”

McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”

But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.

McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”

McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.

“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”

The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.

The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.

That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.

“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”

Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.

This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out this stunning 360 video from inside an F-16

Piloted by Maj. John “Rain” Waters, an operational F-16 pilot assigned to the 20th Operations Group, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina and the United States Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration Team commander, the F-16 of the Viper Demo Team performs an aerobatic display whose aim is to demonstrate demonstrate the unique capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, better known as “Viper” in the pilot community.


The F-16 piloted by “Rain” was surely one of the highlights of EAA AirVenture 2018 airshow in Oshkosh, Winsconsin and the video below provides a pretty unique view of the amazing flying display. Indeed, the footage was captured by a VIRB 360, a 360-degree Camera with 5.7K/30fps Resolution and 4K Spherical Stabilization. The action camera captured a stabilized video regardless of camera movement along with accelerometer data to show the g-load sustained by the pilot while flying the display routine.

There is little more to add than these new action cameras will probably bring in-flight filming to a complete new level.

Enjoy.

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran tries to blame U.S. for horrible terror attack

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley rebuked comments from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that blamed US support for a terror attack on a military parade Sept. 22, 2018, that killed 25 people and wounded 60.

Haley waved off Rouhani’s condemnation of America, and said in the aftermath of the attack, “he needs to look at his own home base.”

“The Iranian people are protesting,” Haley said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sept. 23, 2018. “Every ounce of money that goes into Iran goes to his military. He has oppressed his people for a long time.”


Haley continued: “He can blame us all he wants, but the thing he’s got to do is look in the mirror.”

Rouhani lashed out at America’s support for mercenary countries in the Persian Gulf, saying it helps to “instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes.”

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose relevant sanctions crippled the economy and drew ire from leadership, Haley said.

“They don’t like the fact that we’ve called them out,” Haley said. “We have called them out for ballistic missile testing. We’ve called them out for their support of terrorism. We’ve called them out for their arms sales. And they don’t like it.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Despite the tensions, Haley contradicted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani‘s claims from a day earlier the US was seeking a regime change and promised Trump would remain strict with Iranian leadership.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted immediately after the attack Sept. 23, 2018, to blame regional countries and their “US masters,” calling the gunmen “terrorists recruited, trained armed and paid” by foreign powers, raising tensions in the region amid the unclear future of Tehran’s nuclear deal.

“Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives,” Zarif wrote on Twitter Sept. 23, 2018.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to “Fox News Sunday” before Rouhani’s statement, calling Zarif’s comments “an enormous mistake.”

“The loss of innocent life is tragic, and I wish Zarif would focus on keeping his own people secure rather than causing insecurity around the world,” Pompeo said.

Haley said the September 2018 United Nations General Assembly would be a chance for countries to sort out tension, but Trump isn’t planning on a meeting with Iranian leadership, as Rouhani “has to stop all of his bad behavior before the president’s going to think he’s serious about wanting to talk.”

Haley added: “There is no love for Iran here in the United States, and there’s no love for the United States in Iran.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Putin personally just launched 4 ballistic missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently oversaw the launch of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and apparently pulled the trigger on four of them himself, the Associated Press reports.


The large-scale military drill exercised Russia’s land, air, and sea-based nuclear capability with test launches from submarines, supersonic bombers, and a launch pad.

“The goal of the launch was to test advanced ballistic missile warheads,” a Russian defense ministry spokesman said. And the missiles, as well as the warheads, were very advanced.

Not only does the land-based missile boast a range of over 6,000 miles, enough to hit anywhere in the US with hundreds of kilotons of explosive force, but it has been tailor-made to evade US missile defenses.

Also read: This is what Vladimir Putin looked like when he was a KGB spy

Russian media reports that the Yars ICBM tested by Russia flies in a jagged pattern to evade missile defenses. Once the missile breaks up, it carries multiple reentry vehicles and countermeasures to confuse and overwhelm missile defenses.

Even in test conditions, US missile defenses struggle to intercept ICBMs, but the US doesn’t even stock a sufficient number of interceptors to repel a Russian attack.

Russia’s ministry of defense reported that all missiles hit their targets. Russia last launched the Yars in September during a massive military drill near its border with Eastern Europe.

Watch the ICBM launch below.


Articles

Meet the kids terrorizing Bangladesh


Last Friday evening, just before 9pm, seven heavily armed terrorists stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery, an upscale café popular with expats, diplomats and wealthy locals in the Gulshan area of Dhaka.

The neighborhood is considered one of the most secure in Bangladesh, attracting embassies and high commissions to locate there.

Only a lucky few managed to escape in the initial moments of the attack. Most of the 20 to 25 guests and a similar number of employees were taken hostage. Attempts by Bangladeshi police to enter the siege were met with gunfire and grenade explosions, killing two officers and injuring others. Security personnel attempted to negotiate with the terrorists, without success.

The siege went on for 11 hours before Bangladesh Army para-commandos finally stormed the building using armored personnel carriers.

The operation, codenamed “Thunderbolt,” recovered 13 hostages – including three foreigners. But it was too late for most. The terrorists had already killed up to 20 foreign nationals – including nine Italians, seven Japanese, an Indian, an American of Bangladeshi origin and two Bangladeshis. After being shot, their bodies were hacked with machetes and knives.

The security forces killed six gunmen and captured one alive.

ISIS waited a few hours before claiming responsibility for the attack through its official Amaq news agency. Amaq continued to post updates on the attack throughout the night, along with pictures from inside the restaurant – in all likelihood taken by the perpetrators and then digitally transmitted to their handlers.

The pro-ISIS hacker group Sons of Caliphate Army also published a poster promoting the attack.

However, the next day, Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said none of the hostage takers were part of ISIS, nor any other international terrorist organization for that matter. Rather, they were home-grown members of the banned JMB.

So who were the attackers?

Less than 24 hours after the siege ended, ISIS published pictures of five of the terrorists. No information was provided about the killers’ real identity – only their noms de guerre. But here’s what we know of the attackers:

1. Nibras Islam

Nibras Islam was identified as one of the assailants from the photo posted by ISIS matching his Facebook wall, which has since been deactivated. Nibras went missing from Dhaka in February. He studied at the Turkish Hope School and then the North South University, a leading private university in Dhaka. From there, he went on to pursue higher studies at Monash University’s Malaysia campus.

2. Meer Saameh Mubasheer

Meer Saameh Mubasheer was a class 11 or A-level student when he too went missing from Dhaka at the end of February. He’d been on his way to a coaching center, according to Facebook posts that were widely circulated. One of the posts at the time he went missing was from Mahamudur Rahman. “I am just astonished,” Rahman wrote on July 2, “‘because this was the same guy! He is Meer Saameh Mubasheer”. Unconfirmed sources say he studied at Scholastica, a top English medium school in Dhaka.

3. Rohan Imtiaz

The third assailant has been identified as Rohan Imitiaz. He’d also been missing for the last few months according to a Facebook post from his father, Imtiaz Khan Babul, on June 21. He shared an old photo of the two of them, asking his son where he was and pleading for him to return. Rohan’s father is said to be a Dhaka city Awami League (ruling party of Bangladesh) leader. According to some reports, Rohan also used to be an A-level student of the Scholastica English medium school in Dhaka.

4. Khairul Islam

Khairul Islam was the son of a day laborer from Bogra district, Rajshshi division, in northern Bangladesh, and studied at a madrassa. He’d been missing for the past year. Bangladeshi police believe he was involved in at least three murders in northern Bangladesh during the last seven months. Several ISIS-claimed attacks – targeted assassinations – have taken place in northern Bangladesh during this period.

And the other three?

Social media is abuzz with talk of two more attackers being identified: Raiyan Minhaj and Andaleeb Ahmed. There has been no confirmation of this from mainstream media nor the Bangladesh government.

5. Raiyan Minhaj

Raiyan Minhaj graduated in Mechanical Engineering from the Monash University campus in Malaysia last December.

6. Andaleeb Ahmed

Andaleeb Ahmed also graduated from the Monash University campus in Malaysia. No further details are available beyond the many social media posts matching his picture with one of the photos of the attackers published by ISIS.

7. The Mysterious Professor

There’s a missing link in the incident. Sections of the Bangladeshi media have reported sightings of a bald man, who was one of the hostages – yet he appeared remarkably comfortable in the otherwise extremely tense situation.

Screenshots from video footage during the siege show the man smoking on the first floor of the café during the early morning of July 2, with two terrorists standing behind him. The bald man, along with his companions, were later rescued by the security personnel.

The man was later identified as Hasnat R Karim, a professor at Dhaka’s North South University. He’d gone to celebrate his son’s birthday with his family at the Holey Artisan Bakery.

What’s Next?

In the second part of this analysis, to be published next week, we will explain how this attack was all too predictable given our recent analysis of the ‘new emir’ of ISIS, which we forecast in January of this year and was formally announced in April.

We will also explore the geopolitical ramifications of this attack, and the high probability of future incidents in Bangladesh, due to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the growing domestic threat posed by ISIS.

Phill Hynes and Hrishiraj Bhattacharjee’s probe of the Dhaka terrorist attack continues tomorrow with analysis of ISIS’s stronghold in Bangladesh as its bridgehead to Southeast Asia. Hynes and Bhattacharjee areanalysts for ISS Risk, a frontier and emerging markets political risk management company covering North, South and Southeast Asia from its headquarters in Hong Kong.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Daniel Craig is injured on set of Bond 25

James Bond has fallen and it looks like his final mission has been put on hold. But for how long?

On May 14, 2019, Variety reported that 007 actor Daniel Craig reportedly “slipped and fell quite awkwardly,” which resulted in a twisted ankle and led to him being “flown to the U.S. for X-rays.” This report comes from unnamed sources at The Sun, meaning, for now, the top-secret allies of James Bond (or anyone from EON productions) have not confirmed this is real.

According to the report, Craig was filming the final scenes of the new film in Jamaica, and subsequent scenes, thought to be shot at Pinewood Studios in London have been suspended. Should Bond fans worry? Will the movie ever be completed?


BOND 25 Live Reveal

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In all likelihood, Daniel Craig will bounce back and the movie will still come out on time. After all, Harrison Ford broke his leg in 2014, and The Force Awakens still came out on time in 2015. We’re not saying who is tougher — Daniel Craig or Harrison Ford — but if Han Solo can deal with a broken leg, then James Bond can get over a twisted ankle.

That said, here’s hoping Craig makes a swift recovery, if only so he can get back to his dad duties as well as his secret agent work, too.

Bond 25 doesn’t have a title yet is and is scheduled to be out sometime in February 2020.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 real things Vietnam vets experienced that you won’t see in movies

We all know Hollywood tends to get a lot wrong about the military. Uniform items, tactics, and even people from history get mixed up, dropped, and/or lost along the way. But Hollywood also glamorizes a lot of what the military is and what military life is like. If we were to actually live by Hollywood war movie standards, military life would be all yelling, push-ups, and constant field training.

Who would do all the paperwork? Some salty staff NCO who will always be complaining about all the paperwork he has to do. Well, they got that part down. Here are six things Vietnam veterans really did that you’ll never see in the movies.


I didn’t see this in Forrest Gump.

(VietnamSoldier.com)

Sh*t burning

Yeah, the military still has this detail. But whenever you hear the telltale sounds of Hueys over the music of Creedence Clearwater’s Fortunate Son, the newly-deploying troops are always headed to some very green, very loud base filled with troops who are grilling out and kitting up to go on a search and destroy mission. These new privates are given their marching orders to go out on a combat patrol immediately, even though they’re still green. When (if) they get back, they get time to sit in the bunks and chatter.

No. While they were gone, the REMF NCOs made quick use of that grilled food. It’s time to do the private’s work. Here’s your diesel fuel, Tom Cruise. A lot of Vietnam vets say that’s the newcomer’s first work detail.

Counting bodies

Remember when Forrest Gump was busy rescuing Bubba from the oncoming wave of napalm that lit up the Vietnamese in the area? He barely made it out alive. What great, gripping action. The enemy was subdued, Forrest and Lt. Dan were safe, and Forrest could go on honoring Bubba and his family.

What they don’t show is probably the Beehive anti-personnel rounds that lit up the area before the napalm was dropped. After the NVA or Vietcong are pinned to trees by exploding flechettes, it’s pretty hard for them to escape the area before the napalm comes in. Some private is going to get sent to count just how many charred bodies are attached to trees. It ain’t pretty, but it happened.

Body bag duty

When an allied troop dies, someone needs to take care of the body. That’s a junior enlisted job. In places like Saigon and in field hospitals, dead ARVN troops were bagged and moved from hospital to mortuary to burial details – really quickly if the troops were lucky. If they were unlucky, they were moving heavy, dripping bags or bodies that reeked of death and decay and were often filled with maggots.

That’s a smell you won’t ever forget, vets say.

Amazing but fictional.

The new clueless LT.

Isn’t it awesome to see a competent, intelligent, squared away officer like Lt. Dan Taylor leading American fighting men into combat? Throughout Forrest’s entire time in Vietnam, Lt. Dan led them through rice paddies, jungles, and other terrain, clearing tunnels and destroying outposts. Sure, he also led them into an ambush, but sh*t happens, and then it’s burnt to a crisp – just like that ambush.

But Lt. Dan doesn’t represent every Lieutenant who came to Vietnam. Vietnam vets remember new officers showing up to tell seasoned troops how to do their jobs, even if it was wrong or if the officer was unable to read maps.

MIGHTY TRENDING

NASA has a SWAT team, and they’re good

If you think it’s hard getting tickets to a summer blockbuster on opening night, try getting into Kennedy Space Center these days to see a Space Shuttle launch.


After two and a half years of anticipation, people around the world want to see NASA boost back into action and the show sells out quick. Thinking about slipping in through the back door?

Think again.

After climbing wall obstacles, Emergency Response Team members from Kennedy move to the next challenge during a SWAT Round-Up International event. (Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann)

Along with the formidable force of standard security at Kennedy, a highly trained and specialized group of guardians protect the Center from would-be troublemakers. They are the members of the Kennedy Space Center Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and they mean business.

“We’re here 24-7,” said SWAT commander David Fernandez. “There’s never a point when SWAT is not here, so we’re ready to respond to something if needed at a moment’s notice.”

NASA contracts the 29-member team from Space Gateway Support (SGS) to protect Kennedy’s employees, visitors, and national assets like the Space Shuttle from any potential threat. The SWAT team carefully prepares for special events like launch day and the arrival of astronauts and VIPs, but it also stands ready every day for possible problems that may arise.

Additionally, the SWAT team provides support to Kennedy security when special expertise may be needed to diffuse a dangerous situation. Skills like rappelling, defensive tactics, or marksmanship may be used to help keep the peace.

To stay sharp and fit for their job, members of the team have to pass annual physical fitness tests and maintain updated certifications for using their weapons.

“The training that we do out here is very intense sometimes,” Fernandez said. “But that’s because we’re at a stage which could be considered by some to be advanced. The training has to be more intense and challenging.”

Members of the Emergency Response team, or ERT, carry a battering ran and equipment through an obstacle area during an event of the SWAT Round-Up International. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

As a part of staying in shape, members of the Kennedy Space Center SWAT team participate in competitions with the most elite teams around the world. SWAT officers hone their skills in events testing their speed and accuracy with special weapons and equipment. In 2019, the team from Kennedy placed 10th out of 55 teams at the annual SWAT Roundup in Orlando, Fla.

SWAT team logo Members of the SWAT team admit that one of the best parts of their job is getting the “big-boy toys.” But senior officer Eric Munsterman said there is also a rewarding bond they share with one another.

“In the civilian world, outside of police work or fire work, I don’t see where you’re going to find [camaraderie] as strongly as we develop it,” Munsterman said.

They may have their differences during the week, but when they suit up and go to work, that all goes away, Munsterman said.

Through a strong commitment to each other, members of the SWAT team ensure things at Kennedy stay safe. If you plan to come see a Space Shuttle launch, make sure you have a ticket.

“If anybody means harm to the astronauts or anyone else that works out here, they’re not getting past us,” Munsterman said.
Articles

The chair of the joint chiefs of staff reveals biggest lesson he’s learned in the fight against ISIS

Gen. Dunford touring a facility in Kabul Base Cluster | Flickr


The US has been able to greatly improve its use of intelligence over the 600-day fight against ISIS, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Business Insider on Tuesday.

“If you want to talk about lessons learned, I‘ll tell you, I’m probably relearning lessons over the last couple of years, and No. 1 is intelligence,” Gen. Joseph Dunford said in response to a question from Business Insider during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“If you want to know why our operation’s quantifiably more effective today than they were a year and a half ago, it’s because our intelligence is getting much better,” Dunford continued.

Dunford had stressed in recent congressional testimony that with nearly 100 nations and approximately 30,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, the US military needed more cooperation from other nations’ intelligence operations.

“I won’t go into great detail right now, but in terms of how you fully harness the intelligence community, getting the right people in the right places to do target development — has been something that’s frustrating to me,” Dunford said Tuesday.

“I think we’ve made some improvements that result in the progress that we have made,” he added.

Dunford’s comments came days after the Pentagon announced the US-led coalition, Operation Inherent Resolve, killed Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, the top financier for ISIS (aka Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh). It was a sign of the progress to which Dunford referred.

“We’re systematically eliminating ISIL’s cabinet,” US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a briefing last Friday.

As of March 15, the US-led coalition has conducted a total of 10,962 strikes throughout the region, with 7,336 strikes in Iraq and 3,626 strikes being conducted in Syria.

The Department of Defense puts the total cost of anti-ISIS operations at $6.5 billion as of February 29, 2016. And the average daily cost stands at about $11.4 million for 571 days of operations.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force finally has plans to test a laser weapon on its AC-130J gunship

For the last five years, Air Force Special Operations Command has been working toward incorporating a high-energy laser weapon on its newest AC-130J gunship. It now plans to test-fire a 60-kilowatt laser in 2022, according to a program officer affiliated with the program.

“If it is successful — and we are planning for success — then it will feed into our new requirements and potentially a new program down the road,” said Air Force Col. Melissa Johnson, program executive officer for fixed-wing programs at Special Operations Command. She spoke during last week’s Virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.


“If this goes forward past the demo … we’ll have an additional [research, development, test and evaluation] program going forward,” Johnson said, as reported by NDIA‘s National Defense Magazine.

Johnson explained that previous tests have largely been ground-based and done in conjunction with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia. The next, scheduled for fiscal 2022, will be onboard the AC-130 aircraft, she said.

The J-model aircraft achieved initial operational capability in September 2017.

The fourth-generation AC-130 is slated to replace the AC-130H/U/W models, with delivery of the final J-variant sometime in 2021, according to the Air Force.

The 4th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, received its first J-model with the Block 30 software upgrade in March 2019.

Along with the 105mm cannon sported by its cousin, the AC-130U model, the AC-130J is equipped with a 30mm cannon “almost like a sniper rifle. … It’s that precise; it can pretty much hit first shot, first kill,” Col. Tom Palenske, then-commander of 1st SOW, told Military.com during a trip to Hurlburt in 2018.

Palenske said that a laser would be the ultimate ace in the hole, making disabling other weapons systems easier.

“If you’re flying along and your mission is to disable an airplane or a car, like when we took down Noriega back in the day, now, as opposed to sending a Navy SEAL team to go disable [aircraft] on the ground, you make a pass over that thing with an airborne laser and burn a hole through its engine,” he said.

Palenske was referring to 1989’s Operation Nifty Package mission to capture and remove Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega from power, during which a SEAL team “disable[d] his aircraft so he couldn’t escape.”

With a laser, “it’s just like that. And you just keep going on, and there’s no noise, no fuss, nobody knows it happened. They don’t know the thing’s broken until they go and try to fire it up,” he said at the time.

AFSOC had hoped to incorporate the laser onto the aircraft this year. Johnson said gaps in funding, not technological maturity, were behind the delay.

“After several years of seeking stable funding, we are there,” she said.

Then-AFSOC commander Gen. Brad Webb made a similar remark in 2018.

“The challenge on having the laser is funding,” Webb said during the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium that year. “And then, of course, you have the end-all, be-all laser questions: ‘Are you going to be able to focus a beam, with the appropriate amount of energy for the appropriate amount of time for an effect?’

“We can hypothesize about that all we want. My petition is, ‘Let’s get it on the plane. Let’s do it. Let’s say we can — or we can’t,” Webb said.

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

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes of the week

Don’t let meme withdrawal happen to you. Check out these 13 gems from around the Facebooks:


1. Finally, a new soldier that won’t fall out of a run (via The Salty Soldier).

Wait, why can’t the dog do PT?

2. It’ll be alright, Eli (via Coast Guard Memes).

We’ll bring you back something nice.

SEE ALSO: That time a Navy squadron bombed North Vietnam with a toilet

3. When security forces get distracted:

(via Air Force Nation)

Seriously, your one job was keeping those planes safe.

4. Branch differences personified (via Pop Smoke).

But hey, that’s what the F-35 will do to you.

5. “I need two!”

If you had paid your protection money to the E-4 mafia, you wouldn’t be in this mess.

6. Play it cool (via Pop Smoke).

If sergeant sees you panicking, he’s going to realize what’s wrong. Act. Casual.

7. Wanna go run in the waves?

(via The Salty Soldier)

Nah. Wanna burn piss and sh-t?

8. When all of you work together …

(via Coast Guard Memes)

… maybe you can get a job done.

9. Battalion needs bodies for a working party (via Team Non-Rec).

The Hunger Games would be more exciting if it were all Marines.

10. “I just wanna thank my wife and kids. Without them, none of this would be possible.”

(via Team Non-Rec)

11. “Gotta break the plane, bro.”

(via Air Force Nation)

Don’t worry, the blue falcons get their comeuppance.

12. The only thing you need for a guaranteed safe airborne op:

(via The Fit Soldier).

The PT Belt actually collects solar energy to slow the soldier’s fall. Fact.

13. It’s like Hollywood doesn’t even know how to do a Google search (via Sh-t My LPO Says).

There are literally dozens of books and movies about SEALs that show the real uniform. Use any of them as a model.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy wants this drone to extend its fighter range beyond 1k miles

What would it mean to aircraft carrier power projection and attack capability if its fighters could double the range at which they hold enemy targets at risk? Could such a prospect substantially extend the envelope of offensive attack operations, while allowing carriers themselves to operate at safer distances?


Perhaps enemy targets 1,000 miles away, at sea or deep inland, could successfully be destroyed by carrier-launched fighters operating with a vastly expanded combat radius. Wouldn’t this be of crucial importance in a world of quickly evolving high-tech missile and aircraft threats from potential adversaries such as near-peer rivals? Perhaps of equal or greater relevance, what if the re-fueler were a drone, able to operate in forward high-risk locations to support fighter jets – all while not placing a large manned tanker aircraft within range of enemy fire?

While some of these questions may, upon initial examination, seem rhetorical or rather obvious — they are at the heart of a now very critical Navy effort to engineer a new carrier-launched re-fueler by the early to mid 2020s. The drone aircraft, it appears, could bring the promise of more than doubling the strike range of an F/A-18 or F-35C.

(USAF photo)

With this end in mind, the Navy has recently released a draft Request For Proposal asking industry for design ideas, technologies and a full range of potential offerings or solutions which might meet the aforementioned criteria.

The concept of the effort, called the MQ-25 Stingray, is to fortify the Carrier Air Wing with a hack-proof unmanned refueler able to massively extend the strike and mission range of its on-board aircraft.

“MQ-25 is the next step in Navy’s integration of UAS into carrier strike group. The primary mission is a robust organic fueling capability to make better use of Navy combat strike fighters. The program has identified two KPPs for program: carrier suitability and mission tanking.” Rear Adm. Mark Darrah, Program Executive Officer, Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, told Scout Warrior in a statement several months ago.

A draft request for proposal will solicit input from industry developers regarding range, shape, speed, performance, avionics and sub-components – as part of a broader to find a synthesis between requirements envisioned for the aircraft and what is technically achievable within the desired time frame. The input will then be analyzed by the Navy in preparation for a formal Request For Proposal to advance industry competition.

The service previously awarded four development deals for the MQ-25 to prior to this draft proposal to industry by sometime this. Deals went to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics and Northrop Grumman.

The process thus far has been geared toward MQ-25A Stingray technical and task analysis efforts spanning air vehicle capabilities, carrier suitability and integration, missions systems and software — including cybersecurity.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This revolutionary rifle has four bores and won’t jam: Updated

*Update: We reached out to Martin Grier to ask about some of the more stunning claims surrounding the rifle and heard back just after the original article went to press. We’ve updated, in bold, the muzzle velocity and fire rates below with his response.

*Second update: After another discussion with Martin Grier, the inventor of the weapon, we’ve learned that some of the reporting on the weapon’s firing action is incorrect, and we had originally repeated those incorrect claims. We’ve corrected the reporting in bold.

The Army is requesting a prototype of a personal rifle that has four bores, triggering headlines everywhere — but the bigger news might be that the manufacturer claims that it cannot jam, is electrically fired, and weighs less than today’s common weapons.


www.youtube.com

First, let’s discuss the “four barrels” thing that’s flying around the internet. FD Munitions actually describes their prototype with five openings as a five-bore design — and that’s more accurate. The weapon has a single barrel, meaning a single bar of metal, but that bar has five holes in it, each of which lines up with a bullet when the weapon is loaded. The Army version would have four bores and, consequently, four bullets.

And, we’re using “bullet” here instead of “round,” the general military term, intentionally. Rounds are self-contained units with propellant, projectile, and primer. Most of them also have a case. But the L5, FD Munitions’ prototype that will feed into the Army’s requested design, uses blocks of ammo instead.

In the block ammo, a single block of composite material has multiple hollows carved out. In the case of the Army proposed prototype, it has four hollows. Each hollow is filled with propellant, a firing pin, and a bullet that is precisely aligned with a bore. When the shooter fires, an electronic charge triggers a firing pin striker, igniting the propellant, sending the bullet down the bore and towards the target.

The FD Munitions L5 rifle prototype has five bores and few moving parts. The Army has requested a four-bore version for testing.

(YouTube/FD Munitions)

The shooter would still typically fire one round at a time. The bores are stacked vertically as are the “blocks” of ammo. Each trigger pull typically fires the next round in sequence. When four rounds have been fired, the first “block” of ammo is ejected and the next block is loaded.

But, when necessary, the shooter can tell the weapon to fire the entire block at once, sending four 6mm rounds flying at once.

All of this allows for a system with much fewer moving parts than a traditional, all-mechanical rifle. FD Munitions claims that, since only the blocks are moving and they only move 0.5 inches at a time, the weapon has a minimized probability of jamming. And, since most of the heat of the weapon firing stays in the block, which is soon ejected, the weapon has much less chance of overheating.

The FD Munitions L5 rifle prototype fires rounds from “blocks” of ammo via electric actuation instead of a mechanical hammer.

(YouTube/FD Munitions)

But, of course, the Army has to test all of this before it can make a decision — hence the prototype.

We heard back from the inventor, Martin Grier, about the firing rates and velocity just after we originally went to press. Here’s what he told us about the numbers (light edits for clarity):

The velocity quote of 2,500 mph is close, with velocities of 3,400-3,600 fps. achievable with our composite Charge-Block ammunition (depending on projectile mass). The COPV (composite overwrap pressure vessel) design is much stronger than steel and can safely operate at 80k psi.
The maximum theoretical rate of fire with our electronic fire control is about 6,000 shots per minute (SPM) in full-auto mode, since the pulse width is 10ms. (1/100 sec.)
In burst-fire mode, That rate goes up to 7,500 spm since the pulses can be overlapped somewhat for short periods.
In actual use, for a personal weapon, 4-600 spm in full-auto mode seems to be the most controllable, just as with other weapons, and in burst fire 1,800 spm is the sweet spot.
Since the tech is fully scalable, in other applications, such as [Squad Automatic Weapon], or other crew-served weapons, different rates of fire may be more useful. The electronic fire control can be easily set for any rate up to the maximum.

The blocks of ammunition contain four to five bullets each and, when ejected, take a lot of the heat with them, allowing the shooter to fire more rounds before the weapon overheats.

(YouTube/FD Munitions)

The Army would need to verify those rates. And, it would need to know at what ranges the weapon is accurate in both standard firing and when firing four rounds simultaneously. Do the rounds affect each other in flight when traveling so close together at such high speeds?

And how much weight would a combat load be with the metal blocks? They certainly contain more material than four loose rounds would, so would an infantryman need to carry significantly more weight? And while the ejected blocks may take a lot of the heat with them, there’s still the friction of the rounds traveling down the bores with the exploding gasses to heat up the barrel. What’s the sustained rate of fire before it overheats?

While the Army digs into all the numbers and tests things like reliability and heat dissipation, the rest of us can talk about how cool it sounds. It’s like a video-game weapon come to life.