During an operation aimed at eliminating ISIS’s last stronghold in Syria, a US-backed militia captured five foreign fighters including a school teacher from Texas who once sent his resume and a cover letter to the caliphate.
“Dear Director, I am looking to get a position teaching English to students in the Islamic State,” the letter reads.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish fighting group backed by the US, announced Jan. 13, 2019, that its fighters had captured Warren Christopher Clark, a 34-year-old from Houston. The New York Times obtained documents found in a house in Mosul, Iraq — including a resume and cover letter — that Clark reportedly sent to apply for a job teaching English in the caliphate.
A photo released by the Syrian Defense Forces reportedly shows Warren Christopher Clark after his capture in Syria.
(Syrian Defense Force)
The letter, which was verified by Seamus Hughes of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, and bears the signature “Abu Mohammed,” said to be a pseudonym, according to the Times. A resume accompanying the letter ends in 2015, which may indicate when Clark began working for the Islamic State. The documents obtained in Mosul show that before landing in Syria, the University of Houston graduate spent time teaching in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, according to the Times.
The SDF identified a second man as American, but the Times reported that Zaid Abed al-Hamid is more likely from Trinidad.
To date, only four Americans have been captured in battle in Iraq and Syria, according to George Washington University experts. According to the Times, US officials have not yet confirmed the SDF’s report.
If Clark and Hamid are returned to the US, they will join a small number of former ISIS militants extradited — according to GWU’s database, of 72 identified Americans who have traveled to join the caliphate, 14 have been returned to face charges.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Marines love video games. It’s no secret that games like Battlefield had an influence on many of us as we decided to sign up in the first place. Slowly, you’ll come realize that life in the military is nothing like video games 99% of the time. But that still leaves that sweet, sweet 1% — which is experienced mostly during the Integrated Training Exercise.
When you’re at ITX, your battalion is put to the test to see if they can operate in combat environments. This is the thing that makes or breaks your unit. It’s what tells the Marine Corps that you’re ready to be sent on cool, important missions during deployment.
There’s a lot at stake when your unit arrives at Camp Wilson, make no mistake about that. It’s also some of the most fun you’ll have while training for a deployment. At times, the experience can feel like you’re in a video game. The types of things you do at ITX are the very reason you joined the infantry in the first place — to shoot guns and blow stuff up. This is Battlefield live.
Even some of the company assault ranges were pretty cool.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch)
You go on cool missions
Conducing helicopter-supported raids and clearing through a large town populated with both enemies and civilians sound like objectives out of latest Rainbow Six. Sure, not all of the exercises are this cool, but even video games have their dull levels.
There’s not much to do there, either.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Natalia Cuevas)
Camp Wilson is basically the game lobby
When playing a game online, between matches, you often get sent to a “lobby,” where you wait with other players and get prepared for the next mission. This is essentially the role of Camp Wilson: it’s a place you relax and get ready for the next event.
You were lucky if you mostly rode in helicopters.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch)
You use vehicles to attack objectives
This isn’t the case for every mission but, for the most part, you’ll be taken to and from a staging area by vehicle to get as close as possible to your objective before you get out and attack. On the large assaults, you’ll be riding in Amphibious Assault Vehicles.
The explosions are better in person.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch)
You finally get to witness air strikes
Twentynine Palms offers a cool training experience for units undergoing ITX evaluation — you get the ability to use and witness air strikes. That’s right: We’re talking planes flying overhead and dropping bombs that you get to watch explode. And you thought calling in an airstrike in Call of Duty felt good?
They’re like mortars but, bigger.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Sgt. Justin A. Bopp)
You have artillery support
In some games, you can call for artillery support. This probably wasn’t the case during a lot of your pre-deployment training cycles. You definitely get mortars, but watching a 155mm Howitzer drop warheads in the distance is amazing. Just like air strikes, these are even better in person.
You’ll burn through more ammo than you thought you’d ever touch.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dallas Johnson)
You fire a lot of bullets
Video games give you a lot of ammunition and so will your unit at Twentynine Palms. You’re going to get everything you need for every mission you take on, and you might get more than you know what to do with. Hopefully your trigger finger is prepared for the cramp it’s going to experience.
Today I found out the actor who played “Scotty” on Star Trek, James Doohan, was shot six times storming Juno beach on D-Day.
Doohan, a Canadian, after leading his men through a mine field on Juno beach and personally taking out two German snipers in the process, eventually took four rounds in one of his legs; one in his hand, which ultimately resulted in him losing his middle finger; and one in the chest. The shot to the chest likely would have been fatal except that he had a silver cigarette case there, given to him by his brother, which deflected the bullet. He would later give up smoking, but at least he could say that being a smoker actually saved his life.
Ironically, the shots he took were not fired by the enemy, but rather by an overzealous Canadian gunman. After his unit was secured in their position for the night, Doohan was crossing between command posts, when a Canadian gunman spotted him and opened fire.
Doohan originally joined the Canadian Forces at the age of 19, eventually being commissioned a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery. D-Day was the first and last action he saw in the war. After recovering from his injuries, he became a pilot in the Canadian Air Force, but never saw action. Despite not ever flying in combat, he was once called “the craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force” when he flew a plane through two telegraph poles after “slaloming” down a mountainside, just to prove it could be done. This act was not looked upon highly by his superiors, but earned him a reputation among the pilots of the Canadian Air Force.
As mentioned, contrary to what many people think, Doohan was not Scottish. He was Canadian. When he was auditioning for the role of the ship’s engineer, he went over various accents for Gene Roddenberry for the character. After he finished, Roddenberry asked him which he liked best and he responded: “Well, if you want an engineer, he better be a Scotsman because, in my experience, all the world’s best engineers have been Scottish.”
Although he wasn’t Scottish, Doohan described the character of Scotty as: “99% James Doohan and 1% accent.” “It was a natural. When I opened my mouth, there was Scotty. Scotty is the closest to Jimmy Doohan that I’ve ever done.”
The name Montgomery Scott was chosen because Montgomery was Doohan’s middle name and the character was portrayed as Scottish.
Both the Klingon language and the Vulcan language were initially very crudely developed by Doohan. Later, these languages were expanded and refined by professional linguists, primarily by Marc Okrand.
While great pains were taken in Star Trek to conceal the fact the Doohan was missing a middle finger, there are several episodes where this can be observed. These include: Cat’s Paw; Day of the Dove; and The Lights of Zetar. This can also be observed in a scene in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In the former, it can be observed when he hands McCoy parts for the Transwarp Drive and in the latter when he’s holding a plastic bag dinner which was given to him by Lt. Uhura.
Doohan not only played the character Scotty in Star Trek, but also did the voice for many different parts including: The M-5 from The Ultimate Computer and Sargon from Return to Tomorrow, among many others.
Before landing the role as Scotty, Doohan did over 4000 radio shows and 400 TV shows in Canada and was particularly noted for his great versatility in voice acting.
Shortly before his death, Doohan was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, lung fibrosis, Alzheimer’s, and, eventually, pneumonia. His official cause of death was listed as pneumonia and Alzheimer’s.
Doohan was married three times in his life and fathered four children. He met his final wife, Wende Braunberger, when she was just 17 and he was 54, marrying her very shortly after their first meeting. The two had three children, the last in 2000, and remained married for 31 years until Doohan’s death in 2005 at the age of 85.
As someone who has served on active duty and in the reserves, I can confidently say that neither side of the divide fully understands the other. The Army Reserve often thinks of the active Army as drill days that come more often, and the active Army thinks of the Reserve as weekend warriors with no expertise or experience.
They’re both wrong, but reserve drill days are, to put it mildly, weird beasts.
Army reservist drives to drill. So much fun.
(YouTube/Strength Over Benches)
It starts with a long drive
Sure, some people live near their drill location, but as unit after unit after unit gets shuffled around thanks to base closings and re-alignments (plus the fact that there’s always a good chance that a slot for your military job at your current rank isn’t available), you’re going to have one hell of a drive.
If you’re particularly lucky, you’ll be driving a few hours to drill, meaning that you’ll drive up Friday night after work, using Rip-Its and a pinch of dip to stay awake like you’re driving through Ramadi instead of the Carolinas.
Every reservist approximately 20 minutes before drill.
(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)
Then you have to groom all the stuff you haven’t bothered with in four weeks
Most Reservists aren’t necessarily AR 670-1 friendly the rest of the month, so there’s a lengthy grooming process to get rid of all the hair growth and long fingernails and, in rarer circumstances, bruises, henna tattoos, and Sharpie.
Depending on your living circumstances, you might have to do this before the drive, but whatever. Just scrub until the genital drawings are all off your face.
Army Reserve Officer Training Cadets getting ready to do some physical training.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)
Finally, throw on the uniform and stumble into PT
It’s obviously best if you’ve actually received the uniform of the day from whoever is disseminating that information (it being your first-line NCO is far from guaranteed), but you’ll be lining up in formation regardless of whether you had the right uniform ahead of time. And, since all the NCOs need to get some instruction time and there are only two PT sessions per month, there’s a good chance there’s a different instructor every time.
A different instructor who only does this once every few months, who didn’t have time to plan until the day before drill, who has to practice the conditioning drills, and who uses the same pocket physical training guide as everyone else. Be prepared for some seriously repetitive workouts, probably conducted while at least four guys who can’t pass tape wheeze behind you.
Hmmm, this computer training is probably different from the computer training she did earlier, but it’s impossible to tell after a few hours.
(U.S. Army National Guard Maj. Joseph Siemandel)
Admin, admin, admin
When you get to actual work, be prepared for all the admin requirements of active duty to be packed into two duty days. Yeah, cars need to be inspected, people need to learn not to harass each other, and someone has to click through all these anti-suicide slides (because, yeah, PowerPoint is the best way to defeat that particular scourge.)
On the off chance that there is time leftover for actual training, it’s probably going to be conducted by the guys in the unit who have similar jobs on the civilian side, because they’re the only ones with a ton of experience doing the work.
(Side note: This is one of the legitimate advantages of the reserve components. There are a ton of guys in most units who actually get day-in, day-out experience. Truck drivers aren’t sitting around in motor pools waiting for a training exercise where they’ll finally be able to get some wheel time. No, they’re on the road for 40 hours or more a week, so they have lots of experience to share.)
Alright, we finally have equipment, so let’s spend the next six months inventorying it over and over and over.
Sure, this could be bundled into admin, but units have to do their property inventories every month on the reserve side just like the active. And that means that at least a few people every month take the special time allocated for ALMS classes to follow the commander around instead.
But this is, obviously, crucial, because otherwise, the Army Reserve might lose track of the weapons that date back to Vietnam, the radios that date back to Desert Storm, or the office implements that still have Eisenhower’s fingerprints on them.
Meals are served in a half-staffed dining facility unless there are too few units at drill to justify starting up the grills. In that case, be prepared for MREs or to do some extreme budget shopping at whatever chain restaurant is so hard up for business that they’ll dive through all the hoops that the Army makes them go through to sell burnt burgers to soldiers.
Vegetarians, understand you’ll be eating the chicken caesar with no chicken. Sorry about that. Still better than a veggie omelet, though.
Army Reserve soldiers prepare to deploy.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)
Finally, release formation
This will, just like on active duty side, run late, especially if annual training or, gods be praised, a deployment is coming up. And sorry, reserve first sergeants are just as likely to piggyback on the commander with comments about “behooving” as their active duty counterparts. The safety brief is extra laughable, though, since everyone there spends three weekends a month successfully not drinking and driving, so it makes it extra odd to get warnings after the fourth.
If you’re commuting and staying in a local hotel during drill, then hope you can make friends with someone in the unit. Because you’re going to be surrounded by them regardless of what you do.
According to a report from DefenseTech,org, the MiG-35 “Fulcrum F” is slated to make its big debut at the MAKS international air show in Russia in July 2017.
The plane has been in development since 2007, when an initial prototype flew at an air show in Bangalore, India. MiG claims that this fighter has also been developed for very austere operation conditions.
“It can take off from a very short lane, take off and land on unprepared airfields, and can be stored without a hangar for a period of a few months,” MiG publicist Anastasia Kravchenko said through an interpreter. “And it’s important and we consider this to be somewhat of a record, if needed, the engines of the MiG-35 could be swapped in the conditions of active operations within the framework of 58 minutes.”
The MiG-35 is an evolution of the MiG-29, a lightweight multi-role fighter that has been in service since 1983 with the Russians. Photos released by MiG show that the MiG-35 has eight under-wing hardpoints for air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, bombs, rockets, and other ordnance.
By comparison, MilitaryFactory.com notes that the MiG-29 has six under-wing hardpoints. The MiG-29 was widely exported, and notably saw combat with Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, and Yugoslavia. Other countries that acquire the MiG-29 include Peru, India, North Korea, Algeria, Cuba, and Myanmar.
MilitaryFactory.com reports that the MiG-35 has a top speed of 1,491 miles per hour, can fly up to 1,243 miles, and can climb 65,000 feet in a minute. The MiG-35 has been ordered by Egypt in addition to the Russian Air Force, with China, Peru, and Vietnam all rumored to be potential export customers.
You can see what the hype is about in the video below.
Here’s my question: if Sesame Street is meant to educate children, why does Cookie Monster use incorrect nominative pronouns? I am very confused about who the audience is for these videos! Are these videos for children or adults?
And can someone please bring me a cookie???
Sesame Street: Give it, live it, RESPECT feat. Common
The story begins in pre-revolutionary Philadelphia.
As a result of early trading with Caribbean countries, colonists along the fishing ports massed great quantities of rum and citrus fruits.
These fish houses, as they were called, kept punch bowls of Fish House Punch in their outer foyers to entertain guests as they waited to be seated.
The combination of rum, brandy, lemon juice, water, and sugar gained a reputation for packing a punch among early colonists, including Continental Marines.
U.S. Marine Corps legend, Gen. Victor “Brute” Krulak (center) insisted that this drink be served at every one of his birthday celebrations after 1940.
“The recipe for true Fish House Punch was kept secret for almost 200 years,” according to Gary and Mardee Regan’s review on Fish House Punch, located on the Amazon.com website. “The Formula was first developed at the Fish House Club, also known as the State in Schuylkill, or simply the Schuylkill Fishing Company in Philadelphia, an organization formed in 1732 by a group of anglers who liked to cook.”
According to the Regans, the Fish House Punch recipe fell into public hands some time around the beginning of the 20th century, and the formula has been seen in print many times over the past hundred years.
Nevertheless, for those who mix this historical punch, the history surrounding it is legendary and so is the taste.
After a brief absence of US aircraft carrier presence in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS George H. W. Bush will be returning to Syria’s coast to hammer ISIS forces in the region.
This marks the first time the US Navy has had a carrier in the region since US guided-missile destroyers struck Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force after his regime carried out a deadly chemical weapon attack on civilians.
In the immediate aftermath of that strike on April 6, Russia, Assad’s stalwart ally, sent two corvettes of their own.
The US has dispatched the Bush and four guided-missile destroyers as part of a carrier strike group.
The carrier arrives at a time when US and coalition forces have all but stomped out the last remaining ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, though they increasingly find themselves under attack from new adversaries — Iranian-backed pro-Assad forces.
Iran recently released footage of one of its drones scoping out a US drone, and the very next day the Pentagon announced a US aircraft had shot down a pro-Syrian drone.
Increasingly, US-led coalition forces find themselves bombing pro-Syrian and Iranian-backed forces that threaten US troops in deconfliction zones.
With the addition of the aircraft carrier, the US will have an additional few dozen F/A-18s handy to police the skies.
There is no gift more uniquely Afghan than something made of the mineral lapis lazuli. Since the dawn of human civilization, nowhere was the powerful blue rock more plentiful than in this now-war-torn country. The history of using this stone in jewelry dates back to the days of the Pharaohs of the Nile River Valley, but its time as a mineral dates back much further, to the Archean Eon — before life on Earth.
Now, you can wear a small piece of it while helping the women of Afghanistan put their lives back together. Combat Flip-Flops, the clothing company founded by two Army Rangers with a mission of using business entrepreneurship and women’s education to end the cycle of conflict in the Afghanistan, has a new product: a bracelet made from lapis lazuli. Each is handmade in Afghanistan using stones from the Sar-i Sang Mines — the same mine whose ores have decorated ancient kings and queens across the known world.
Lapis lazuli has a rich history and you can own a piece of it. We’re working with Combat Flip-Flops to give our readers 20-percent off their purchase when using the coupon code at the end of this article.
Lapis lazuli dates back some 2.7 billion years — that’s more than half of the Earth’s total age. It wasn’t until well after its formation that the first stirrings of single-celled organisms began to appear on Earth. Humans didn’t appear as we know them until five to seven million years ago.
This stone is, truly, timeless.
The raw lapis lazuli gives the mask its deep blues.
(Egyptian Musum in Cairo)
Humans in what we today call Afghanistan first began mining and using lapis lazuli around the 7th millennium BC, the same time agriculture began to spring from Mesopotamia. The beauty of the deep blue stones has been found at numerous ancient sites, from the Indus Valley in modern-day India to the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, Georgia, and Armenia. Afghan lapis lazuli was even found on the West Coast of Africa. Queen Cleopatra is said to have used it as eyeshadow and the mineral adorns King Tutankhamun’s burial mask.
In the middle ages, lapis lazuli was imported through the Silk Road, crushed, and turned into the deepest blue hues of paint available anywhere on earth: the ultra-expensive, ultramarine color. Artists like Michelangelo, Titian, and Vermeer all used the color in their most famous works.
The skies depicted on the Sistine Chapel are all painted with ultramarine, from lapis lazuli of Afghanistan.
For 6,000 years Afghans have mined the Sar-i Sang for lapis lazuli. The deeply blue-hued mineral can be found on everything from Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring, to Fabergé Eggs on display in St. Petersburg.
Now, it can adorn your wrist or the wrist of someone you love. Besides having a rich history laced with historical beauty, purchasing one of the lapis lazuri bracelets from Combat Flip-Flops will fund one day of school for a young Afghan girl, employ an Afghan war widow, and support the relatives of fallen American troops..
Sold in conjunction with TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, America’s premiere nonprofit dedicated to the families of America’s fallen fighting men and women), this lapis lazuli bracelet is made in Afghanistan, shipped to the U.S., and prepared for you by members of a Gold Star Family.
If you’ve never heard of Combat Flip-Flops before now, check out this vet-owned business. They’re doing some amazing things at home and abroad.
Samuel J. Seymour was away from his home for the first time at just five years old. He was with his father on a business trip to Washington, D.C., a city filled to the brim with soldiers and other men with guns. He was nervous and scared at the sight of so many firearms. To put him at ease, his nurse decided to take him to a play, and President Lincoln himself would be there.
It was an event he would never forget, as he recounted it to a TV audience and celebrity contestants Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball some 90-plus years later.
“It wasn’t a pleasant thing,” Seymour told Meadows when describing his night at Ford’s Theater on a 1956 episode of I’ve Got A Secret. “I was scared to death.”
When Lincoln arrived, he smiled and greeted the crowd from a flag-draped booth in the balcony. The President’s smile and the mood of the theater relaxed the young boy. Until a shot rang out. Strangely, the five-year-old Seymour was very concerned about the man who appeared to have fallen from the balcony of the theater in the middle of the performance. He had no idea someone had been shot, let alone that it was President Lincoln.
“Pandemonium” then swept through the theater, Seymour recalled, as his nurse hurried the boy out of the theater. He heard calls of “Lincoln’s shot! The President is dead!”
Seymour died two months after his TV appearance.
The man, of course, was Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth waited until the play’s funniest line when the shot would be masked by the sound of laughter. Booth calmly walked into the President’s booth, barred the door, and fired a single shot into the President, who was laughing at the line. Union Army Maj. Henry Rathbone, who accompanied Lincoln that night with their wives, fought Booth for his single-shot derringer and was stabbed for his effort. His constant wrangling with Booth caused the assassin’s boot spur to get tangled in the flag as he jumped from the President’s box. This is why Booth landed awkwardly on his leg.
Many in the crowd were confused. Not everyone heard the shot, and many thought it was still part of the play. Little Samuel Seymour didn’t understand it either.
“I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat,” the old man said. “That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams – and I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”
The US military’s special operations forces (SOF) are increasingly returning to their roots of advising foreign militaries to fight for them — and it seems to be paying dividends in Iraq and Syria.
The campaign against ISIS is being fought less by US troops on the front lines, but instead is being conducted ” by, with, and through” local forces, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of CENTCOM, told Congress.
There have been three big changes in how SOF has been used against ISIS, and if successful, these new tactics might be used in future conflicts, Linda Robinson, a senior analyst with RAND, writes at The Cipher Brief.
As Robinson notes, special ops are on the ground in ideal numbers, they accompany and are dispersed with local forces at the front, and they provide crucial fire support to local forces.
In the late 1940s, SOF were seen to have little purpose in a new world where atomic weapons and strategic bombers reigned. But that changed with the emergence of the Cold War, where proxy wars and insurgencies became more prevalent.
One of the first examples of the new way SOF were used was in the 1950s when the 10th Special Forces Group was tasked with establishing guerrilla forces behind Communist lines in eastern Europe. “That was the moment Special Operations warriors point to as their birthday,” Dwight John Zimmerman and John D. Gresham write in “Beyond Hell and Back: How America’s Special Operations Force Became The Best Fighting Force In The World.”
After 9/11, however, SOF began to be used in more “precision, highly kinetic strike forces enabled by technology and linked through a digitally networked battlefield.” But by and large, the new counter-terrorism strategy in Iraq and Syria may prove to be something of a reset to SOF’s former tactics.
The number of SOF in Iraq and Syria has now reached about 10,000, giving them the means to provide “meaningful support to the variety of indigenous forces fighting ISIS,” Robinson writes.
Furthermore, SOF now accompany local forces to secure locations near the front lines. They no longer give tactical advice from distant headquarters, where they had to analyze operations through “the soda-straw perspective of drone feeds,” Robinson says.
This allows them to see local forces in action, and therefore give better advice.
Over the last year, SOF has increasingly provided more fire support. US Apache helicopters were first used in June 2016 to capture Qayyarah, which is now a staging base for coalition forces’ assault on Mosul. This base now has an ICU, and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems set up to support the assault.
US howitzers are also set up at a base in Hamman al-Alil, providing support to Iraqi CTS and Federal Police advancing into West Mosul.
This support has been even more helpful to Syrian Democratic Forces, an irregular force that is not heavily armed but nevertheless is the main force fighting ISIS in Syria.
Members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit have also moved into Syria with 155mm howitzers to assault Raqqa. It was reported in March that US Marines near Raqqa “had killed hundreds of enemy fighters and destroyed more than 200 fortifications.” One of the canons they used in these strikes was the M-777 Howitzer, which fires 155mm shells and has a range of up to 25 miles.
SOF has also recently helped position 500 local forces near the strategic Tabqah Dam, which was eventually wrested from ISIS.
However, the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is far from over. ISIS has dug bunkers, trenches and tunnels, and laced Raqqa with mines, while in western Mosul, there are still more than 400,000 civilians caught in the middle of heavy fighting.
But if the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria succeeds, “this new way of combining forces and using SOF to direct a ground war, could become a model for conducting low- to mid-level combat.”
Federal authorities are investigating dozens of new cases of possible opioid and other drug theft by employees at Veterans Affairs hospitals, a sign the problem isn’t going away as more prescriptions disappear.
Data obtained by The Associated Press show 36 criminal investigations opened by the VA inspector general’s office from Oct. 1 through May 19. It brings the total number of open criminal cases to 108 involving theft or unauthorized drug use. Most of those probes typically lead to criminal charges.
The numbers are an increase from a similar period in the previous year. The VA has pledged “zero tolerance” in drug thefts following an AP story in February about a sharp rise in reported cases of stolen or missing drugs at the VA since 2009. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff in the VA’s network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics are suspected of siphoning away controlled substances for their own use or street sale — sometimes to the harm of patients — or drugs simply vanished without explanation.
Drug thefts are a growing problem at private hospitals as well as the government-run VA as the illegal use of opioids has increased in the United States. But separate data from the Drug Enforcement Administration obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act show the rate of reported missing drugs at VA health facilities was more than double that of the private sector. DEA investigators cited in part a larger quantity of drugs kept in stock at the bigger VA medical centers to treat a higher volume of patients, both outpatient and inpatient, and for distribution of prescriptions by mail.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla., said AP’s findings were “troubling.” He urged Congress to pass bipartisan accountability legislation he was co-sponsoring that would give the agency “the tools needed to dismiss employees engaged in misconduct.” The Senate is set to vote on the bill June 6.
“The theft and misuse of prescription drugs, including opioids, by some VA employees is a good example of why we need greater accountability at the VA,” Rubio said.
In February, the VA announced efforts to combat drug thefts, including employee drug tests and added inspections. Top VA officials in Washington led by VA Secretary David Shulkin pledged to be more active, holding conference calls with health facilities to develop plans and reviewing data to flag problems. The department said it would consider more internal audits.
Criminal investigators said it was hard to say whether new safeguards are helping.
“Prescription drug diversion is a multifaceted, egregious health care issue,” said Jeffrey Hughes, the acting VA assistant inspector general for investigations. “Veterans may be denied necessary medications or their proper dosage and medical records may contain false information to hide the diversion, further putting veterans’ health at risk.”
Responding, the VA said it was working to develop additional policies “to improve drug safety and reduce drug theft and diversion across the entire health care system.”
“We have security protocols in place and will continue to work hard to improve it,” Poonam Alaigh, VA’s acting undersecretary for health, told the AP.
In one case, a registered nurse in the Spinal Cord Injury Ward at the VA medical center in Richmond, Virginia, was recently sentenced after admitting to stealing oxycodone tablets and fentanyl patches from VA medication dispensers. The nurse said she would sometimes shortchange the amount of pain medication prescribed to patients, taking the remainder to satisfy her addiction.
Hughes cited in particular the risk of patient harm. “Health care providers who divert for personal use may be providing care while under the influence of narcotics,” he said.
AP’s story in February had figures documenting the sharp rise in drug thefts at federal hospitals, most of them VA facilities. Subsequently released DEA data provide more specific details of the problem at the VA. Drug losses or theft increased from 237 in 2009 to 2,844 in 2015, before dipping to 2,397 last year. In only about 3 percent of those cases have doctors, nurses or pharmacy employees been disciplined, according to VA data.
At private hospitals, reported drug losses or theft also rose — from 2,023 in 2009 to 3,185 in 2015, before falling slightly to 3,154 last year. There is a bigger pool of private U.S. hospitals, at least 4,369, according to the American Hospital Association. That means the rate of drug loss or theft is lower than VA’s.
The VA inspector general’s office said it had opened 25 cases in the first half of the budget year that began Oct. 1. That is up from 21 in the same period in 2016.
The IG’s office said the number of newly opened criminal probes had previously been declining since 2014.
Michael Glavin, an IT specialist at the VA, says he’s heard numerous employee complaints of faulty VA technical systems that track drug inventories, leading to errors and months of delays in identifying when drugs go missing. Prescription drug shipments aren’t always fully inventoried when they arrive at a VAfacility, he said, making it difficult to determine if a drug was missing upon arrival or stolen later.
“It’s still the same process,” said Glavin, who heads the local union at the VA medical center in Columbia, Missouri. The union’s attorney, Natalie Khawam, says whistleblowers at other VA hospitals have made similar complaints.
Criminal investigators stressed the need for a continuing drug prevention effort. The VA points to inventory checks every 72 hours and “double lock and key access” to drugs. It attributes many drug loss cases to reasons other than employee theft, such as drugs lost in transit. But the DEA says some of those cases may be wrongly classified.
“Inventories are always an issue as to who’s watching or checking it,” said Tom Prevoznik, a DEA deputy chief of pharmaceutical investigations. “What are the employees doing, and who’s watching them?”