The consequences have come for Navy SEALs who flew Trump flags from their vehicles earlier this year.
According to a report from the Virginian-Pilot, the unidentified personnel, who were assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group Two, were reprimanded for flying blue Trump flags off their vehicles while they were convoying between training locations.
“It has been determined that those service members have violated the spirit and intent of applicable [Defense Department] regulations concerning the flying of flags and the apparent endorsement of political activities,” Lieutenant Jacqui Maxwell told Newsline.com.
At the time, We Are The Mighty covered the incident, noting that in July, 2016, the DoD had reminded military and civilian personnel, “Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering.”
Video of the event spread rapidly over social media, and was picked up by a number of media outlets in addition to We Are The Mighty, including the Daily Caller. One of the videos is below:
US leaders are now asking Pakistan to increase its counterterrorism activity and further collaborate with the Dept. of Defense when it comes to attacking Jihadists in their country and advance prospects for increased peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford recently met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa in Islamabad to discuss heightened cooperation between their two countries.
“Secretary Pompeo emphasized the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace,” State Dept. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement.
The meeting takes place within a broader context of ambiguity characterizing US-Pakistani relations, a connection which encompasses both tensions and successful military-to-military counter-jihadist cooperation.
Within Pakistan, there appears to be two interwoven, yet distinct trajectories; US officials and Pakistani security experts say that the Pakistani military has had substantial success attacking jihadists within their borders. At the same time, many US officials continue to raise some measure of question regarding the level of Pakistani resolve when it comes to counter-jihadist initiatives. Further, some are also raising questions about the actual depth of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, particularly given the country’s interest in addressing the India-Pakistan conflicts regarding the contested Kashmir region.
Pompeo and Dunford, being aware of President Trump’s stated concern that Pakistan might harbor jihadists, both cited increased military-to-military relationships as central to future progress in the region.
“On the surface, they say they want to cooperate…. So what we are looking for is the actions to back that up ,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staft Gen. Joe Dunford, according to a Pentagon report.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.
Former Secretary of State spokesman Jamie Rubin is among those raising concerns about the actual extent of Pakistan’s allegiance to the US-backed counterterrorism operations. In particular, he has posed the question as to whether the newly arriving Pakistani administration, led by recently elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, will pursue pro-American policies.
Multiple counterterrorism and security experts familiar with operations in the region have said that part of the ambiguity or apparent contradictory sensibilities within Pakistan emerges, in large measure, from Pakistani entities operating separately from a military-led government infrastructure.
Rubin made the argument that instances wherein Pakistani entities appear to be sustaining some degree of alliance with Afghan and Pakistani jihadists are due to the country’s highly-prioritized anti-India stance.
Specifically, Pakistani jihadists are, according to many expert estimates, believed to be involved in various counter-Indian initiatives. Also, Rubin maintained that some portion of Pakistanis seek to maintain an ability to have safe harbor in Afghanistan in the event that their country is overrun by Indian forces.
Citing the currently incoming new Pakistani administration, Rubin raised the question as to whether there were enough “pro-Americans” within Pakistani government. He wondered whether there was instability and tension separating Pakistani military leadership and other political ambitions held by some in the country.
Pakistani security officials involved in maintaining counterterrorism support and security within the country say an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, including government officials, are what he called “moderates.”
“The rhetoric in Pakistan is moderate and not one of an extremist Pakistan. That is in everyone’s interests,” said Ikram Sehgal, Chairman of an international security firm called the Pathfinder Group.
At the same time, Sehgal also cited the importance of Pakistan’s relationship with Iran and other regional neighbors, adding “our best stance is to be neutral and not take sides.”
Meanwhile, US military officials emphasize that the current Trump administration is deeply invested in improving US-Pakistani military and diplomatic cooperation with a particular dual-pronged approach of both seeking peace in Afghanistan and stepping up Pakistani military counterinsurgency attacks against jihadists.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.
Also, operating beneath the shadow of a widely-discussed war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military has quietly been aggressively attacking jihadi terrorists, Taliban forces and other enemies in the mountainous tri-border region spanning Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, according to Sehgal.
Pakistani military missions, which have for quite some time been existing below the radar of greater international consciousness and focus, have by no means been uncomplicated. Many successes have been met with challenges and an ebb-and-flow often associated with complex counterinsurgency operations against a mix of enemy forces.
Nonetheless, despite the overwhelmingly circulated narrative that jihadist enemies continue to find safe-harbor in Pakistan, jihadi insurgent forces have consistently been attacked and removed from the area by the Pakistani military, Sehgal said.
Operating with weapons, intelligence assistance, and training support from the US military, Pakistani military activity has lowered the number of jihadi fighters in the country from more than 100,000 years ago to roughly 2,000 today.
Along with many Pakistani experts and observers of the tri-border region, Sehgal does acknowledge that the situation in Pakistan is not without some ambiguities and complexities. However, despite an at times fragmented approach and periodic hesitations, Pakistani forces have steadily made substantial progress over the course of the last decade, he claimed.
Pakistani military operations have included raids, door-to-door searches of tribal areas and large-force attacks on jihadi facilities such as underground bunkers and command and control facilities; the attacks have massively reduced the amount of enemy jihadi fighters in the region, Sehgal said.
Sehgal added that, not long ago, Pakistani military forces attacked and destroyed a jihadist facility in the tribal areas previously known to harbor large amounts of insurgents.
“Pakistanis have been carrying out ops on their side of the border. We have not had an easy time as successful as we’ve been. We successfully carried out military operations against jihadi military facilities,” he said. “We have not had a single failure when we attack them directly.”
Also, the Pakistanis are currently fencing the tri-border area to stop the flow of enemy fighters coming in from Afghanistan. Sehgal said the fence will be finished several months from now.
Featured image: Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Leno picked Laberge at random out of a number of wounded soldiers to show his appreciation for those who serve. The former late night host may not be able to do something for everyone in uniform, he said, but he wanted to introduce the world to just one of them.
“Hopefully it expresses what we want to do for all soldiers,” Leno said.
In the video, Leno takes Laberge and some of his fellow soldiers out and shares some common ground around cars. Then, he takes him for a ride in the insanely fast Hellcat. As you would imagine, it was a pretty fun ride.
But the drive doesn’t end there. Over lunch, Leno talks with Laberge about what led him to join the Army, and how his recovery is going. “I can’t imagine what it’d be like,” Leno said.
And then, the best part. Getting out of the vehicle, Laberge comments that he wouldn’t mind having the Hellcat, to which Leno responds: “It’s yours. It’s yours.”
“Really?” the shocked soldier asks. “Oh man. That is awesome. Thank you.”
“America loves you,” Leno tells him. “Thank you buddy. Have a lot of fun. Don’t get any tickets.”
For most civilians, No-Shave November is the month of the year where we allow ourselves to grow what we think is the mustache that would make Tom Selleck weep. For Airmen of the U.S. Air Force, that month is March, or more commonly known as “Mustache March.”
Mustache March is the mostly-unofficial mustache growing season in the USAF, which used to be a protest of the regulation against mustaches but became an act of defiance against dogmatic leadership. During the Vietnam War, Air Force triple ace Robin Olds decided to grow a distinctive, out-of-regs, handlebar mustache, which was later dubbed “bulletproof.”
Robin Olds is one of the United States Air Force’s most legendary Airmen. He earned his Ace status with 16 victories in World War II and Vietnam. He grew the mustache just to annoy his superior officers, referring to it as “the middle finger I couldn’t raise in PR photographs.” Once his mustache reached its peak, the popularity of growing mustaches caught on with his Airmen. They loved it and began to grow their own. Even though he came to hate the ‘stache, he kept it while he was in Vietnam, because it kept morale high.
Dismissing the irony of an officially accepted act of defiance, in 2014 Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh challenged the entire Air Force to an officially sanctioned Mustache March to honor General Olds, who died in 2007. General Welsh did not participate in 2015, due to the controversy the inherently all-male contest caused among some female Airmen; the tradition lives on among other Airmen, in the same spirit of honor and defiance of Air Force facial hair regs.
You can be sure to see a lot of Air Force personnel as they come to work on April 1 cleared of their bulletproofing. So until then, celebrate with these photos of the legendary Robin Olds in all of his middle-fingered glory.
These 7 snipers reached out and touched the enemy from a long way away:
1. The British sniper who nailed three 1.53-mile hits
Cpl. of Horse Craig Harrison was providing sniper support in a firefight between his buddies and Afghan insurgents. Near the end of the three-hour battle in Nov. 2009, Harrison spotted the enemy machine gun team that was pinning everyone down. He lined up his sights on the targets that were over 1.5 miles away.
Each shot took 6 seconds to impact. He fired five times. Two shots missed but one round ripped through the gunner’s stomach, another took out the assistant gunner, and the last one destroyed the machine gun.
2. A Canadian sniper who took out a machine gunner in Operation Anaconda
During Operation Anaconda, the bloody hunt of Afghan militants in the Shahikot Valley in Mar. 2002, Canadian Cpl. Rob Furlong was watching over a group of U.S. troops and saw an insurgent automatic weapons team climbing a ridge 1.5 miles away. His first two shots narrowly missed but the third broke open the gunner’s torso and left him bleeding out on the ground. The shot barely beat out Master Cpl. Arron Perry’s shot discussed below.
3. Another Canadian sniper in Operation Anaconda who took out an observer from nearly the same distance
Canadian Master Cpl. Arron Perry was also supporting U.S. troops in Operation Anaconda when he spotted an enemy artillery observer 1.43 miles away. Perry took aim at the observer and nailed him. Perry held the record for world’s longest sniper kill for a few days before Furlong beat it.
4. The Ranger whose longest-American kill is still mostly secret
Sgt. Bryan Kremer was deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Ranger Battalion in Mar. 2004 when he took a shot from 1.42 miles away and killed an Iraqi insurgent. The details of the battle have been kept under wraps, but his Mar. 2004 shot is the longest recorded sniper kill by an American.
5. The Marine legend who set the world record with a machine gun
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock is one of the most respected names in the Marine Corps and set the record for longest kill in 1967 with a machine gun. The record stood for 35 years before Perry beat it.
Hathcock had an M2 in single-shot mode with a scope mounted on the top. He saw a Vietcong soldier pushing a bike loaded with weapons and took two shots. The first destroyed the bike and the second killed the soldier.
6. The South African sniper who recorded hits from 1.32 miles while killing six officers in a day
A South African battalion deployed in a U.N. brigade fought viciously against the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the Battle of Kibati, an unnamed South African sniper killed six M23 officers in a single day in Aug. 2013. His longest kill that day was an amazing 1.32-mile shot.
7. The Army sniper who tagged Taliban who walked into his personal firing range
Snipers sometimes fire at different objects on the battlefield to collect information about how their rounds move through the air at a given location. Spc. Nicholas Ranstad had been firing at a boulder near his position, leaving a small trail of white marks on the rock.
There are bad guard details, horrible guard details, and then guard details where you and the bulk of your regiment are ordered to guard caves filled with bat shit.
Gunpowder is made up mostly of saltpeter, a chemical powder generally mined from deposits on cave walls or extracted from urine and bat guano. When the South found itself under naval blockade early in the war, it had to find a way to make many of its necessities.
Modern ammunition uses cleaner-burning propellants, but the nitrates in guano are still valuable for fertilizers. The descendants of the bats that provided the guano are now famous in Austin. Spectators line up on bridges to watch the bats depart for their nightly feeding.
She is the leader of the pack, so to speak, of the Class of 2021 at the US Military Academy at West Point, and the first black woman to hold the position.
That Cadet Askew shattered West Point’s glass ceiling is no small measure — no small measure in the armed forces, for sure, and no small measure of 21st century America.
The military, like the world of business, has long been considered a man’s world.
And the telltale signs of war, peace and tribalism reflect where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re headed. Cadet Askew and her teammates are leading America across a new threshold.
For one, West Point is the oldest of our military academies. It was founded after President Thomas Jefferson, who had not served in the military but became commander in chief when he was sworn into office, signed the Military Peace Establishment Act in 1802. The act specified that the academy be established along the Hudson River in New York.
One of the largest footprints Cadet Askew is stepping into belongs to Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, West Point’s first black cadet captain and now commander of US Forces Korea.
“We are role models to a lot of young people, not just African-Americans and soldiers,” the now 58-year-old Gen. Brooks once said.
Indeed, America’s current state of affairs proves that America’s future leaders will have much with which to contend. Geneneral Brooks, who, like Cadet Askew, attended high school in Fairfax County, Virginia, is staring down the barrel of the North Korea nuclear threat.
On the home front, civil unrest and tensions among various cultural factions make the rounds of daily news and undistilled social media every day.
Remember Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch, the two soldiers who were captured in Iraq in 2003 during the “global war on terror”? The Marines rescued both, and both wrote successful biographies.
They, too, became role models even though their capture spawned anew the debate over whether women should even serve in combat areas.
Cadet Askew, 20, had barely entered grade school at the time.
Cadet Askew not only is making history, she is studying it as well. In fact, her major is international history, an ever-changing subject in this ever-changing world of ours.
She also loves volleyball and is on the West Point crew team — understanding, as too many of America’s political leaders and wannabe political leaders do not, that team sports give you a different perspective on leadership.
The media gave anyone interested a glimpse of Cadet Simone Askew in her new role as first captain of cadets at West Point, leading the Long Grey Line of cadets on a 12-mile basic training trek — smiling all the way.
Cadet Askew already sounds like she’s preparing the Army Class of 2021 for the history books.
“It’s humbling,” she said, “but also exciting as I step into this new opportunity to lead the corps to greatness with my teammates with me.”
Moldova has expressed concern over what it says were unauthorized movements by Russian military forces in the breakaway Transdniester region.
The Reintegration Policy Bureau, a government department that handles the Transdniester issue and is led by one of Moldova’s two deputy prime ministers, said on June 15, 2018, that the Moldovan government had notified the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about what it called the unauthorized deployment of military trucks and equipment in the region controlled by separatists.
A day earlier, Moldovan authorities filmed some 40 trucks and other military vehicles with Russian symbols and license plates moving along a main road linking the northern and southern parts of Transdniester, a sliver of land along the Ukrainian border in eastern Moldova, the statement said.
Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has apparently survived a bloody coup attempt that has left over 160 people dead, over a thousand injured, and over 2800 military personnel detained. Massive protests by Erdogan supporters, who were rallied by an address by the Turkish President on FaceTime, helped thwart the coup. The coup was condemned by many elements in Turkey, as well as President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Among events Friday night and Saturday were the shutdown of power for Incirlik Air Base, where the 39th Air Base Wing is deployed. British, Saudi, and German forces are operating from the air base, which is less than 70 miles from the Syrian border. That is a convenient locale for operations against the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack in Nice Saturday that left 84 people dead.
Air operations from Incirlik ordered to stop, although aircraft currently flying missions were allowed to land. American troops have not been threatened, although the apparent blockade of Incirlik, which has gone to THREATCON DELTA in the wake of the coup, is not a good sign. Nor is the FAA shutting down flights to and from Turkey. The Federation of American Scientists estimated in 2015 that the United States reportedly has many as 50 “special stores” located at Incirlik, adding to the stakes at Incirlik.
Erdogan in the past has not exactly been a friend to the United States. One of the more notorious incidents came early in his rule as prime minister, in 2003, when he suddenly denied permission for the 4th Infantry Division to land in Turkey and attack into northern Iraq during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lately, during his rule, he has shown a decided pattern of suppressing dissent, including seizing control of newspapers, throwing people in prison for “insulting” him, and drawing charges of both acting like a dictator and turning a blind eye to foreign fighters transiting Turkey to join ISIS.
Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who is residing in the United States after falling out with the Turkish President in 2013 over a corruption scandal and the closure of schools run by his group, Hizmet. According to reports, Gulen is a true moderate Moslem and a supporter of democracy, interfaith dialogue, and education.
With the failure of this coup, Erdogan will move to ensure that there will not be a chance to launch a more successful one. The Turkish president has declared the attempted coup a “gift from god” and has vowed to use it as a pretext to “cleanse our army” and said the elements who took part in the coup are guilty of “treason” and vowed they will “pay a heavy price” for trying to topple his regime.
The effects of this coup will reverberate through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Middle East. Turkey will likely slide further into an Islamist regime, one that becomes increasingly repressive as Erdogan asserts his rule in Turkey.
While the selection of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense drew a lot of attention, there are some other nominations at the Pentagon that are waiting in the wings — the service secretaries.
There is a Secretary of the Army, a Secretary of the Navy (who also is responsible for the Marine Corps, and depending on the situation, the Coast Guard), and a Secretary of the Air Force.
According to a report by the Washington Post, retired Army Col. James Hickey, is the front-runner to be Secretary of the Army. Hickey is best known as the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which executed Operation “Red Dawn,” the mission that lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
For the last two years, Hickey, who served multiple tours in Iraq, has been the senior advisor to the Senate Armed Services Committee. His awards include the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Defense Superior Service Medal.
Hickey’s main competition for Army secretary is Van Hipp, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican party who has served in a number of positions in the Pentagon.
According to his LinkedIn.com profile, Hipp has been chairman of American Defense International, Inc. since 1995.
There are two U.S. congressmen being considered for SECNAV, including Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, the current chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
Forbes, who was defeated for a ninth term in the House of Representatives in the 2016 Republican primary by Scott Taylor, a retired Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and who founded the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, Inc., faces competition from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps officer, according to his House web page.
Hunter, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, succeeded his father, Duncan L. Hunter, a Vietnam veteran who served 14 terms in the House of Representatives.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine is considered a likely possibility to serve as Secretary of the Air Force.
According to his campaign website, Bridenstine is a former naval aviator who flew the F/A-18 Hornet and E-2 Hawkeye in his naval service, then transitioned to the Oklahoma Air National Guard, where he flies the MC-12, an aircraft that specializes in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Bridenstine was first elected to the House in 2012.
The remains returned by North Korea are possibly those of Army troops who fell in the brutal 1950 battle at the Chosin Reservoir, Pentagon POW/MIA officials said on Aug. 2, 2018.
The returned remains are associated with the fight at what was called the “Frozen Chosin” for the sub-zero temperatures in which Marine and Army units fought their way out of encirclement by Chinese forces and were evacuated by sea, said Dr. John Byrd, a forensic anthropologist.
Byrd, who went to Wonsan in North Korea late July 2018 as part of the team that brought back the remains, said he was told by North Korean officials that the remains were recovered from the village of Sin Hung-ri on the east side of the reservoir.
Marines fought on the west side of the reservoir, “and the east side — that’s where the Army was,” said Byrd, laboratory director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
At a Pentagon briefing with retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, the DPAA director, Byrd said his initial examination of the remains, and his discussions with the North Koreans, led him to believe that further analysis will show that the remains are those of Americans.
Honor guard from NATO countries participate in a dignified transfer as part of a repatriation ceremony on Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Raughton)
In addition, the 55 transfer cases handed over by the North Koreans contained equipment associated with the American military, such as boots, canteens, buttons and buckles, Byrd said.
There also was one dog tag, he added. He declined to disclose the name on the tag but said two family members had been notified and are expected to be in the Washington, D.C., area with family groups for a detailed briefing from DPAA on the next steps in identifying the remains.
Byrd said the 55 transfer cases brought by two Air Force C-17s to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii could represent more than 55 individuals, due to remains possibly being mixed.
“You should not assume one box is one person,” he said. “We couldn’t be sure how many individuals were in each box.”
McKeague said that DPAA has a DNA database from 92 percent of the families of the estimated 7,700 U.S. service members still listed as missing from the 1950-53 Korean War and DNA comparisons with the remains from the 55 cases would begin shortly.
He said samples from the remains would be sent to the Armed Forces Identification Laboratories at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to begin the DNA process.
“Where we have compelling DNA matches, identifications could come quickly,” McKeague said, but he and Byrd also cautioned that the process could take years.
Identifications could also come quickly if teeth are found among the remains, McKeague said.
“We could immediately compare dental records,” he said.
Another method of identification was through chest x-rays that were on file for those who served in the Korean War, McKeague said. He said that DPAA has chest radiographs for about three-quarters of the missing from the Korean War.
The key to identifications from chest X-rays was the clavicle, or collarbone, said Chuck Prichard, a DPAA spokesman. Clavicles are unique to each individual, “as unique as a fingerprint,” he said.
McKeague said he was “guardedly optimistic” that North Korea would agree to the return of more remains and also to joint recovery operations with the U.S. at former battlefields and prison camps.
Byrd cautioned that, “at this point, at least, there’s no way to tell” how many more sets of remains the North Koreans might already have in their possession.
Featured image: This blown bridge blocked the only way out for U.S. forces withdrawing from Chosin Reservoir. Air Force C-119s dropped portable bridge sections to span the chasm, allowing men and equipment to reach safety.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
“This is actually how we would get SEALs off the ship submerged,” Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub told Business Insider.
“So you would stick a platoon of SEALs in here, 14 guys … you fill this chamber with water until you match the outer sea pressure. Once the pressure in and outside the ship match, the hatch will lift off open, and they can swim out of a fully filled chamber into open ocean.”
Once the chamber is filled with water, matching the pressure inside and out, “there’s an internal locking mechanism that would open” the top hatch where SEALs swim out, Senior Chief Darryl Wood told Business Insider.
The SEALs can then swim to retrieve what is known as a special-forces operations box, which would be filled with weapons and needed gear, from the tower.
In addition to getting SEALs off the ship, lockout trunks can be used for the entire crew to escape in case the submarine is downed.
This video gives a close-up look at the lockout trunk:
Some ailing veterans can now use their federal health care benefits at CVS “MinuteClinics” to treat minor illnesses and injuries, under a pilot program announced April 18 by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new program, currently limited to the Phoenix area, comes three years after the VA faced allegations of chronically long wait times at its centers, including its Phoenix facility, which treats about 120,000 veterans.
Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”
On April 19, President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation to temporarily extend the $10 billion Choice program until its money runs out, pending the administration’s plan due out by fall. That broader plan would have to be approved by Congress.
“Our number one priority is getting veterans’ access to care when and where they need it,” said Baligh Yehia, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for community care. “The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for veterans in their neighborhoods.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., a long-time advocate of veterans’ expanded access to private care, lauded the new initiative as an “important step forward.”
“Veterans in need of routine health care services should not have to wait in line for weeks to get an appointment when they can visit community health centers like MinuteClinic to receive timely and convenient care,” he said.
The Veterans Health Administration said it opted to go with a CVS partnership in Phoenix after VA officials there specifically pushed for the additional option. They cited the feedback of local veterans and the success of a smaller test run with CVS last year in Palo Alto, Calif.
Shulkin has said he wants to expand private-sector partnerships in part by looking at wait times and the particular medical needs of veterans in different communities. Successful implementation of his broader plan will depend on the support of key members of Congress such as McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.
The VA did not indicate whether it received requests from other VA medical centers or how quickly it might expand the program elsewhere.
The current Choice program was developed after the 2014 scandal in Phoenix in which some veterans died, yet the program has often encountered long waits of its own. The bill being signed by Trump seeks to alleviate some of the problems by helping speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records. Shulkin also has said he wants to eliminate Choice’s 30-day, 40 mile restrictions, allowing the VA instead to determine when outside care is “clinically needed.”
Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays. Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.
Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA’s chief of staff, welcomed the new CVS partnership but acknowledged a potential challenge in providing seamless coordination to avoid gaps in care. She said a veteran’s medical record will be shared electronically, with MinuteClinic providing visit summaries to the veteran’s VA primary care physician so that the VA can provide follow-up services if needed.
The VA previously experimented with a similar program last year in the smaller market of Palo Alto, a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics. CVS says it’s pleased the VA has opted to test out a larger market and says it’s ready to roll the program out nationally if successful.
CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.