The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA - We Are The Mighty
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The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

David Shulkin, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed up to what he thought would be a routine Senate oversight hearing in January 2018, only to discover it was an ambush.


Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was the sole holdout among members of the veterans affairs committee on a bill that would shape the future of the agency. The bipartisan bill had the support of 26 service groups representing millions of veterans. But Moran was pushing a rival piece of legislation, and it had the support of a White House aide who wields significant clout on veterans policy. Neither proposal could advance as long as there was any doubt about which President Donald Trump wanted to sign.

Moran blamed Shulkin for the impasse. “In every instance, you led me to believe that you and I were on the same page,” Moran said at the hearing. “Our inability to reach an agreement is in significant part related to your ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth: double talk.”

There were gasps in the hearing room. It was an astounding rebuke for a Trump appointee to receive from a Republican senator, especially for Shulkin, who was confirmed by the Senate unanimously.

Clearly ruffled, Shulkin hesitated before answering. “I think it is grossly unfair to make the characterizations you have made of me, and I’m disappointed that you would do that,” he said. “What I am trying to do is give you my best advice about how this works.”

Moran dug in. “I chose my words intentionally,” he said. “I think you tell me one thing and you tell others something else. And that’s incompatible with our ability to reach an agreement and to work together.” Moran then left the hearing for another appointment.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS, center) with Kansans serving in Afghanistan, April 2011

The exchange exposed tensions that had been brewing for months behind closed doors. A battle for the future of the VA has been raging between the White House and veterans groups, with Shulkin caught in the middle. The conflict erupted into national headlines as a result of a seemingly unrelated development: the release of a lacerating report on Shulkin that found “serious derelictions” in a taxpayer-funded European business trip in which he and his wife enjoyed free tickets to Wimbledon and more.

The underlying disagreement at the VA has a different flavor than the overhauls at a number of federal agencies. Unlike some Trump appointees, who took the reins of agencies with track records of opposing the very mission of the organization, Shulkin is a technocratic Obama holdover. He not only participated in the past administration, but defends the VA’s much-maligned health care system. He seeks to keep the organization at the center of veterans’ health care. (An adviser to Shulkin said the White House isn’t permitting him to do interviews.)

But others in the administration want a much more drastic change: They seek to privatize vets’ health care. From perches in Congress, the White House, and the VA itself, they have battled Shulkin. In some instances, his own subordinates have openly defied him.

Related: VA watchdog is reviewing Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe where he attended Wimbledon, went on cruise

Multiple publications have explored the turmoil and conflict at the VA in the wake of the inspector general report. Yet a closer examination shows the roots of the fight stretch back to the presidential campaign and reveals how far the entropy of the Trump administration has spread. Much has been written on the “chaos presidency.” Every day seems to bring exposés of White House backstabbing and blood feuds. The fight over the VA shows not only that this problem afflicts federal agencies, too, but that friction and contradiction were inevitable: Trump appointed a VA secretary who wants to preserve the fundamental structure of government-provided health care; the president also installed a handful of senior aides who are committed to a dramatically different philosophy.

The blistering report may yet cost Shulkin his job. But the attention on his travel-related misbehavior is distracting from a much more significant issue: The administration’s infighting is imperiling a major legislative deal that could shape the future of the VA.

Taking better care of veterans was a constant refrain at Trump’s presidential campaign rallies. In the speech announcing his candidacy, he said, “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military, can take care of our vets. Our vets have been abandoned.” Ex-military people overwhelmingly supported him on Election Day and in office.

Trump’s original policy proposals on veterans health, unveiled in October 2015, largely consisted of tweaks to the current system. They called for increasing funding for mental health and helping vets find jobs; providing more women’s health services; modernizing infrastructure and setting up satellite clinics in rural areas.

The ideas drew derisive responses from the Koch brothers-backed group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). Pete Hegseth, its then-CEO, called the proposal “painfully thin” and “unserious.”

Trump then took a sharp turn toward CVA’s positions after clinching the Republican nomination. In a July 2016 speech in Virginia Beach, he embraced a very different vision for the VA, emphasizing private-sector alternatives. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics,” Trump said, “whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.”

Trump’s new 10-point plan for veterans policy resembled the CVA’s priorities. In fact, six of the proposals drew directly on CVA ideas. Three of them aimed to make it easier to fire employees; a fourth advocated the creation of a reform commission; and two involved privatizing VA medical care.

Trump’s new direction, according to a campaign aide, was influenced by Jeff Miller, then the chairman of the House veterans committee. Miller, who retired from Congress in January 2017, was a close ally of CVA and a scathing critic of Obama’s VA.

Miller became one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump, in April 2016. He did so a few weeks after attending a meeting of the campaign’s national security advisers. (That meeting, and the photo Trump tweeted of it, would become famous because of the presence of George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with investigators after pleading guilty to lying about Russian contacts. Miller is wearing the light gray jacket in the front right. Now a lobbyist with the law firm McDermott Will Emery, he didn’t reply to requests for comment.) Miller became Trump’s point man on veterans policy, the campaign aide said.

Miller and CVA portrayed the VA as the embodiment of “bureaucratic ineptitude and appalling dysfunction.” They were able to cite an ample supply of embarrassing scandals.

The scandals may come as less of a surprise than the fact that the VA actually enjoys widespread support among veterans. Most who use its health care report a positive experience. For example, 92 percent of veterans in a poll conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars reported that they would rather improve the VA system than dismantle it. Independent assessments have found that VA health care outperforms comparable private facilities. “The politicization of health care in the VA is frankly really unfair,” said Nancy Schlichting, the retired CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, who chaired an independent commission to study the VA under the Obama administration. “Noise gets out there based on very specific instances, but this is a very large system. If any health system in this country had the scrutiny the VA has, they’d have stories too.”

One piece of extreme noise was a scandal in 2014, which strengthened Miller and CVA’s hand and created crucial momentum toward privatization. In an April 2014 hearing, Miller revealed that officials at the VA hospital in Phoenix were effectively fudging records to cover up long delays in providing medical care to patients. He alleged that 40 veterans died while waiting to be seen. A week later, CVA organized a protest in Phoenix of 150 veterans demanding answers.

More: This is what happened when the VA tried to slash money for homeless veterans

Miller’s dramatic claims did not hold up. A comprehensive IG investigation would eventually find 28 delays that were clinically significant; and though six of those patients died, the IG did not conclude that the delays caused those deaths. Later still, an independent assessment found that long waits were not widespread: More than 90 percent of existing patients got appointments within two weeks of their initial request.

But such statistics were lost in the furor. “Nobody stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, time out, are we destroying this national resource because a small group of people made a mistake?'” a former senior congressional staffer said. “Even those who considered themselves to be friends of the VA were silent. It was a surreal period. The way it grew tentacles has had consequences nobody would have predicted.”

In the heat of the scandal, Miller and CVA pushed for a new program called Choice. It would allow veterans who have to wait more than 30 days for a doctor’s appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to get private-sector care. The VA has bought some private medical care for decades, but Choice represented a significant expansion, and Democrats were wary that it would open the door to privatizing VA health care on a much broader scale.

Still, the Phoenix scandal had made it hard for the Democrats to resist. The Choice bill passed with bipartisan support and President Obama signed it into law in August 2014.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
Former President Barack Obama. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By 2016, then-candidate Trump was demanding further changes. “The VA scandals that have occurred on this administration’s watch are widespread and inexcusable,” he said in the Virginia Beach speech. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center. We must extend this right to all veterans.”

Trump’s contacts with CVA and its allies deepened during the transition. He met Hegseth, who left CVA to become a Fox News commentator, in Trump Tower. Trump picked Darin Selnick for the “landing team” that would supervise the transition at the VA. Selnick had directed CVA’s policy task force, which in 2015 recommended splitting the VA’s payer and provider functions and spinning off the latter into a government nonprofit corporation. Such an operation, organized along the lines of Amtrak, would be able to receive federal funding but also raise other revenue.

Trump’s consideration of Hegseth and Miller to lead the VA ran into fierce resistance from veterans groups, powerful institutions whose clout is boosted by the emotional power that comes with members’ having risked their lives for their country. At a meeting with the Trump transition in December 2016, officials from the major veterans groups held a firm line against privatizing the VA and any secretary intent on it.

Trump finally settled on Shulkin, 58, who ran the VA health system under Obama. Shulkin is a former chief of private hospital systems and a doctor — an internist, he still occasionally treats patients at the VA — who comes across more as a medical geek than the chief of a massive organization.

Trump heaps praise on Shulkin in public appearances and meets with him regularly in private. He was one of the first cabinet secretaries Trump consulted about the impact of the government shutdown on Jan. 21, 2018. They met at Camp David in December 2017 and lunched at the White House on Feb. 8, 2018. “You’re doing a great job,” Trump told Shulkin at a Jan. 9 signing ceremony for an executive order on veterans mental health services, handing Shulkin the executive pen. “We appreciate you.”

Also read: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Trump may like Shulkin, but that didn’t stop his administration from appointing officials who opposed his philosophy. One of them, Jake Leinenkugel, a Marine Corps veteran and retired Wisconsin brewery owner, became the White House’s eyes and ears inside the agency. He works in an office next to Shulkin’s, but his title is senior White House adviser. Leinenkugel, 65, said he came out of retirement to take the position because he was “excited about taking POTUS’s agenda and advancing it.” As he put it, “I’m here to help veterans.”

He and Shulkin got along fine for a few months. But then, in May 2017, the two men clashed, as Shulkin accused Leinenkugel of undermining him. Shulkin wanted to nominate the VA’s acting under secretary for health, Poonam Alaigh, to take the position permanently, according to two people familiar with his thinking. But, the VA secretary charged, Leinenkugel told the White House to drop Alaigh. Shulkin confronted Leinenkugel, who denied any sabotage, according to an email Leinenkugel subsequently wrote. Alaigh stepped down in October and the position remains unfilled.

Shulkin has even been at odds with his own press secretary, Curt Cashour, who came from Miller’s House committee staff. January 2018, Shulkin assigned an official to send a letter to a veterans group that said the agency would update its motto, to be inclusive of servicewomen. (Adapted from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the original reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The new version would read: “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”)

Cashour told The Washington Post the motto wouldn’t change. A few days later, the secretary’s strategic plan went out using the updated, gender-neutral motto. Cashour then denied the change a second time, telling the Post that was “not VA’s position.” A new document with the Lincoln quote restored subsequently appeared on the VA’s website. Shulkin was stunned at being disobeyed by his own spokesman, two people briefed on the incident said. (Cashour denied defying the VA secretary. “The premise of your inquiry is false,” he told ProPublica. Cashour said Shulkin never approved the letter regarding the updated motto and authorized the restoration of the original one.)

Then there was Selnick, who became the administration’s most effective proponent for privatization. He joined the VA as a “senior advisor to the secretary.” Though he reported to Shulkin, he quickly began developing his own policy proposals and conducted his own dealings with lawmakers, according to people with knowledge of the situation. In mid-2017 Shulkin pushed him out — sort of.

Selnick left the VA offices and took up roost in the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. There he started hosting VA-related policy meetings without informing Shulkin, according to people briefed on the meetings. At one such meeting of the “Veterans Policy Coordinating Committee,” Selnick floated merging the Choice program with military’s Tricare insurance plan, according to documents from the meeting obtained by ProPublica.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
Former House Veterans Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller.

Veterans groups were furious. At a Nov. 17, 2017  meeting, Selnick boasted that Trump wouldn’t sign anything without Selnick’s endorsement, according to a person present. Shulkin would later tell a confidant that moving Selnick out of the VA was his “biggest mistake” because he did even more damage from the White House. (Selnick did not reply to a request for comment. A White House spokesman said some VA officials were aware of the policy meetings that Selnick hosted. The spokesman said Selnick does not brief the president or the chief of staff.)

Selnick, 57, is a retired Air Force captain from California who worked in the VA under the George W. Bush administration. At CVA, he not only ran the policy task force, he testified before Congress and appeared on TV. In 2015, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Selnick to the Commission on Care, an independent body created by a Congressional act to study the VA and make recommendations.

Selnick impressed his fellow commissioners with his preparation but sometimes irked them with what they viewed as his assumption that he was in charge, people who worked with him on the commission said. Selnick often brought up his experience at the VA. But some commissioners scoffed behind his back because his position, in charge of faith-based initiatives, had little relevance to health care. Whatever his credentials, Selnick had audacious ambitions: He wanted to reconceive the VA’s fundamental approach to medical care.

Selnick wanted to open up the VA so any veteran could see any doctor, an approach that would transform its role into something resembling an insurance company, albeit one with no restrictions on providers. Other commissioners worried that would cost the government more, impose fees and deductibles on veterans and serve them worse. “He was probably the most vocal of all of the members,” said David Gorman, the retired executive director of Disabled American Veterans who also served on the commission, “in a good and a bad way.”

The bad part, in the view of Nancy Schlichting, the chairwoman, emerged when Selnick tried to “hijack” the commission. Selnick and a minority of commissioners secretly drafted their own proposal, which went further than CVA’s. (The group included executives of large health systems that stood to gain more patients.) They wrote that the “the current VA health care system is seriously broken” with “no efficient path to repair it.” They proposed closing facilities, letting all veterans choose private care, and transitioning the rest to private care over two decades.

Related: Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than three million calls

The draft was written in a way that seemed to speak for the commission as a whole, with phrases like “the Commission recommends.” The commission staff suggested labeling it a “straw man report,” implying it was meant to provoke discussion. Still, veterans organizations were angry, and Schlichting had to publicly disavow the draft. “Darin Selnick has never run a health system in his life and doesn’t understand the complexity of it,” Schlichting told ProPublica.

For his part, Shulkin publicly staked out his vision in a March 17, 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, he defended the VA’s quality of care and proposed reimagining the VA as an integrated system composed of its own core facilities, a network of vetted private-sector providers, and a third layer of private care for veterans in remote places. Shulkin also edited a book published last year trumpeting the VA’s successes, called “Best Care Everywhere.”

Almost four years after the Phoenix scandal, the emergency measure letting some veterans get care outside the VA is still limping along with temporary extensions, not to mention payment glitches and confusion about its rules. Key legislators grew tired of renewing emergency funding and wanted to find a long-term solution. In the House, negotiations broke down after Democrats boycotted a listening session featuring CVA. So fall 2017, focus turned to the Senate.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
A quote from Abraham Lincoln on a sign at the Department of Veterans Affairs Building in Washington, DC. (Flickr)

The crux of the debate was the extent to which the VA should rely on private care. The chairman and ranking member on the Senate veterans committee, respectively, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jon Tester of Montana, drafted a bill to consolidate all of the VA’s programs that pay for private care and let doctors and patients decide where veterans would get care. The VA would buy private care when that makes the most sense but would still coordinate all veterans care in an integrated, comprehensive way. The bill garnered the support of 26 veterans organizations and every committee member except Moran.

Moran represents the Koch brothers’ home state; employees of Koch Industries are the second-largest source of campaign contributions in his career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. With the support of CVA, Moran wanted to establish clear criteria making veterans eligible for private-sector care, like the 30 days/40 miles standard in the Choice program. It might sound like a subtle distinction, but it means the difference between keeping all veterans within the VA system versus ceding the direction of patient care to the private sector. When the committee rejected his amendment, Moran proposed his own bill and signed up Sen. John McCain as a co-sponsor.

Moran’s bill initially called for all veterans to be able to choose private care. When a McCain aide shared it with a lobbyist for the American Legion, the lobbyist was so enraged by what he viewed as a bid to undermine the VA that he torched a copy of the bill and sent the McCain aide a photo of the charred draft. (An American Legion spokesman declined to comment.) With the American Legion’s input, McCain’s and Moran’s staffs toned down the bill to the point that they got letters of support from the group, along with Amvets and CVA. But American Legion and Amvets were still working to get consensus on the Isakson-Tester bill.

Still, the Moran-McCain bill had a few key allies: Selnick and Leinenkugel. They had gained sway in part because of a White House vacuum. The president himself has been largely absent on veterans policy and there’s no senior point person. The portfolio has at times belonged to Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Omarosa Manigault, according to veterans groups and congressional officials. (A White House spokesman said those officials played a role in “veterans issues,” but not “veterans policy.” The latter, the spokesman said, is overseen by Selnick on the Domestic Policy Council.)

That has given Selnick and Leinenkugel wide latitude to shape White House positions on issues that don’t rise to Trump’s level. “Darin [Selnick] is pretty much in the ascendancy,” said Michael Blecker, the executive director of Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based charity serving veterans.

As long as Moran had a competing claim to the Trump administration’s support, the Isakson-Tester bill was stuck. Republicans wouldn’t risk a floor vote on a bill the president might not sign. Shulkin supported the Isakson-Tester bill but he knew his rivals inside the White House were pushing for Moran’s proposal. So Shulkin hedged, awkwardly praising both bills. “We still don’t know which bill he wants,” Joe Chenelly, executive director of Amvets, said. “If the White House wants something different, then we need to know how to reconcile that.”

Amid the impasse, the Choice program was out of money again and needed an extension as part of the end-of-year spending deal. Tester vowed to make it the last one he’d agree to. He called on Shulkin to break the stalemate by publicly endorsing his and Isakson’s bill. “I would love to have the VA come out forcefully for this bill,” he said on the Senate floor in late December. “I think it would help get it passed.”

In a private meeting, Isakson and Tester chided Shulkin for withholding support for their bill, according to three people briefed on the meeting. Shulkin told them he was doing the best he could, but he had to fend off a competing agenda from the White House.

Unbeknown to Shulkin, there was already talk in the White House of easing him out. On Dec. 4, 2017, Leinenkugel wrote a memo, which ProPublica obtained, summarizing his disillusionment with Shulkin as well as with Shulkin’s deputy, Thomas Bowman, and chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson. (“I was asked to tell the truth and I gave it,” said Leinenkugel of his memo; he declined to say who requested it.)

More reading: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Leinenkugel accused Bowman of disloyalty and opposing the “dynamic new Choice options requested by POTUS agenda.” The memo recommended that Bowman be fired — and replaced by Leinenkugel himself. It also asserted that Wright Simpson “was proud to tell me she is a Democrat who completely trusts the secretary and it’s her job to protect him.” Leinenkugel accused her of delaying the placement of Trump’s political appointees. Leinenkugel recommended replacing her, too.

As for Shulkin, Leinenkugel’s memo advocated he be “put on notice to leave after major legislation and key POTUS VA initiatives [are] in place.”

After the clash between Moran and Shulkin at the January hearing, Isakson said the White House would provide feedback on his bill to help the committee chart a way forward. “The president basically is pushing to get a unanimous vote out of committee,” said Rick Weidman, the top lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “The only reason why we didn’t get it before was there is one mid-level guy on the Domestic Policy Council who threw a monkey wrench into it by confusing people about what the administration’s position is.” That person, Weidman said, is Selnick.

The White House’s feedback on the Isakson-Tester bill, a copy of which was obtained by ProPublica, was the closest the administration has come to a unified position on veterans health care. It incorporated input from the VA and the Office of Management and Budget. Selnick told veterans groups he wrote the memo, leaving some miffed that Selnick seemingly had the final word instead of Shulkin. (A White House spokesman said Selnick was not the only author.)

Selnick requested changes that might look like minor tweaks but would have dramatic policy consequences. “It’s these very small differences in details that the public would never notice that change the character of the thing entirely,” said Phillip Longman, whose 2007 book, “Best Care Anywhere,” argued that the VA works better than private health care. (The title of the book Shulkin edited, “Best Care Everywhere,” was a nod at Longman’s book.)

Most important, the White House wanted clear criteria that make veterans eligible for private care. That was the main feature of Moran’s bill and the sticking point in the negotiations. The administration also asked to preserve a piece of the Choice program by grandfathering in veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. CVA praised the White House for nudging the bill in Moran’s direction. “We applaud President Trump for taking a firm stand in favor of more health care choice for veterans at the VA,” the group’s director, Daniel Caldwell, said in a statement dated Jan. 24, 2018.

The White House feedback also called for removing provisions that would regulate providers, such as requiring them to meet quality standards and limiting opioid prescriptions. And the administration objected to provisions in the bill that would require it to fill critical vacancies at the VA and report back to Congress.

Selnick got what he asked for, but it still might not be enough. Isakson and Tester agreed to most of the changes. But in a White House meeting with veterans groups on Feb. 5, 2018, Selnick continued to insist on open choice, suggesting that’s what Trump wants. Selnick visited Moran’s staff, a person with knowledge of the meeting said, and Moran indicated he wouldn’t support the modified version of the Isakson-Tester bill. (A White House spokesman said Isakson and Tester did not accept all the changes and negotiations continue. He denied that Selnick pushed for open choice.) Moran’s spokesman didn’t answer emailed questions by press time.)

The tensions spilled out publicly again on Feb. 8, 2018, when the Washington Post reported that the White House wanted to oust Bowman, Shulkin’s deputy. The article said the purpose was to chastise Shulkin for “freewheeling” — working with senators who don’t share the administration’s position. Isakson’s spokeswoman called it a “shameful attempt” to derail the negotiations. Isakson resolved to move ahead without Moran, the spokeswoman said, but it’s not clear when the bill will get time on the Senate floor (the Senate focused on immigration this week and then will take a recess). Moran could still place a “hold” on the bill or round up other senators to oppose it.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Shulkin determined that Selnick and Leinenkugel had to go, according to four people familiar with the secretary’s thinking. But Shulkin doesn’t appear to have the authority to fire them since they work for the White House. Plus, the attacks from the right were already taking a toll on Shulkin’s standing. “If leaders at Trump’s VA don’t support REAL CHOICE — why won’t they resign?” former CVA chief Hegseth tweeted on Feb. 13, 2018 tagging Shulkin in the post.

Veterans advocates responded by defending Shulkin against attacks they viewed as originating with Selnick and Leinenkugel. “They thought they could coopt David,” said Weidman, the lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “When he couldn’t be coopted, they decided to go after his character.”

The biggest blow came on Feb. 14, 2018 when the VA’s Inspector General released its report on Shulkin’s trip to Europe in April 2017. It concluded that Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets, misused a subordinate as a “personal travel concierge,” lied to reporters, and that his chief of staff doctored an email in such a way that would justify paying travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife.

Shulkin disputed the IG’s findings, but he again ran into trouble getting his message out from his own press office. A statement insisting he had “done nothing wrong” disappeared from the VA’s website, and Cashour replaced it with one saying “we look forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations in more detail before determining an appropriate response.” Cashour said the White House directed him to take down Shulkin’s statement and approved the new one.

Shulkin told Politico the IG report was spurred by internal opponents. “They are really killing me,” he said. By Feb. 16, 2018, his chief of staff had told colleagues Friday she would retire, USA Today reported.

The condemnation after the IG report was swift and widespread. House veterans committee member Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called on Shulkin to resign. Democrats, though generally sympathetic to Shulkin, couldn’t resist lumping the imbroglio in with other travel-expense tempests across Trump’s cabinet (involving Tom Price, Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, and Steven Mnuchin). The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate veterans committees said they were “disappointed” and want Shulkin to address the allegations, but acknowledged the politics at work and the stakes in a joint statement: “We need to continue progress we have made and not allow distractions to get in the way.”

The next day, Shulkin appeared before another routine oversight hearing, in this instance on the House side. He told the representatives he would reimburse the government for his wife’s travel and accept the IG’s recommendations. Shulkin thanked the chairman and ranking member for urging their colleagues not to let the scandal commandeer the hearing. “I do regret the decisions that have been made that have taken the focus off that important work,” he said.

Turning to the VA’s budget, Shulkin resumed his tightrope walk. He praised the VA’s services while acknowledging the need for some veterans to be treated outside the government’s system. By the time he left the hearing, two hours later, the Trump administration’s position on veterans health privatization remained a mystery.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of August 16th

The Air Force was recently considering a new strategy to its PT tests. In a nutshell, it’s going to give any airmen who might fail a PT test a “mulligan” and list the test as a diagnostic instead of a record test. It may possibly be allowed for an airman to list a failed test as off-the-books, but that part isn’t set in stone.

The Air Force was surprisingly serious (to the other troops who use phrases like “Chair Force”) about failed PT tests and other branches also have a practice test system in place. But I can’t help but point out the bad optics on this one.

I mean, I get it. Any notion that the Air Force might someday consider being a fraction more lenient in comparison to the other branches or older vets will cause outrage. On the other hand, I know I would have killed for something like that back in my lower enlisted days…


Anyways, here are some memes while I ponder how much weight I’ve gained since getting out of the Army…

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

​(Meme via Private News Network)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via On The Minute Memes)

True story: I had an E-6 MP live in the apartment next to me off-base…

You know the type, the kind that called in a “noise violation” for my TV being “too loud.” Seeing him get an eviction notice was one of the happiest days of my life in the Army.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme by Call for Fire)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Not CID)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(Meme via Victor Alpha Clothing)

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

MilSpouse and NASA’s last living ‘Hidden Figure,’ Katherine Johnson, dies at 101

NASA legend, mathematician, race barrier breaker, women’s rights advancer, mother, military spouse: Katherine Johnson was truly out of this world. The once in a generation mind passed away at age 101 on February 24, NASA announced.


We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://go.nasa.gov/2SUMtN2 pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW

twitter.com

Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. From an early age, she demonstrated a love of counting and numbers far beyond her peers and well beyond her years. By age 10, Johnson was already through her grade school curriculum and enrolled in high school, which she finished at 14. She enrolled in West Virginia State College at only age 15 and started pursuing her love of math.

According to NASA, while at WVSC, Johnson had the opportunity to study under well known professor Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor. Claytor guided Johnson in her career path, once telling her, “You’d make a great research mathematician.” He also provided her guidance with how to become one. In an interview with NASA, Johnson recalled, “Many professors tell you that you’d be good at this or that, but they don’t always help you with that career path. Professor Claytor made sure I was prepared to be a research mathematician.” Claytor’s spirit of mentorship was something that Johnson paid forward. “Claytor was a young professor himself,” she said, “and he would walk into the room, put his hand in his pocket, and take some chalk out, and continue yesterday’s lesson. But sometimes I could see that others in the class did not understand what he was teaching. So I would ask questions to help them. He’d tell me that I should know the answer, and I finally had to tell him that I did know the answer, but the other students did not. I could tell.”

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

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Johnson became the first black woman to attend West Virginia University’s graduate school. Following graduation, she became a school teacher, settled down and married. She spent many years at home with her three daughters, but when her husband became ill, she began teaching again. In the early 1950s, a family friend told Johnson that NACA (the predecessor to NASA) was hiring. According to NASA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics were specifically looking for African-American females to work as “computers” in what was then their Guidance and Navigation Department. In the 1950s, pools of women at NACA did calculations that the engineers needed worked or verified.

Johnson applied but the openings were already filled. The following year, she applied again, and this time she was offered two contracts. She took the one as a researcher. She started working at NACA in 1953. In 1956, her husband died of an inoperable brain tumor. In 1959, Johnson remarried James A. Johnson, an Army captain and Korean War veteran.

Johnson was a pioneer for multiple reasons. Not only was she a working woman in the 1950s, an era during which women were generally secretaries if they worked at all, she was also a black woman. In an interview for the book “Black Women Scientists in the United States,” Johnson recalled, “We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be. In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports – no woman in my division had had her name on a report. I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston … but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, ‘Katherine should finish the report, she’s done most of the work anyway.’ So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.”

If Johnson was intimidated, she never showed it. “The women did what they were told to do,” she explained in an interview with NASA. “They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

NASA photo

Johnson was so well known for her capabilities, that John Glenn personally asked for her before his orbit in 1962. According to NASA, “The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, Cape Canaveral in Florida, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from liftoff to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to ‘get the girl’—Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine. ‘If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, ‘then I’m ready to go.’ Glenn’s flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space.”

Johnson was an instrumental part of the team and was the only woman to be pulled from the calculating pool room to work on other projects. One of those projects: putting a man on the moon.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

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Johnson lived a remarkable life and had a prestigious career. Her awards and decorations are numerous, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, honorary doctorate from William and Mary, a facility being named after her at NASA’s Langley campus and even a Barbie made in her image. She had a fervor for learning and a love of life.

“Like what you do, and then you will do your best,” she said.

Rest in peace, Ms. Johnson.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
MIGHTY CULTURE

TOPGUN Instructor shares his leadership lessons from the cockpit in new memoir

One of the benefits of being in the military is that the services place a great value on training and education. Throughout a 20-year military career, service members will have the opportunity to attend schools ranging from learning how to jump out of planes all the way to how to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. If we could offer one critique, it is that we don’t have more opportunities to learn across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

Recently, I was able to jump the divide and learn from a Navy pilot. I grabbed a new book by Guy “Bus” Snodgrass about his unique experience as an instructor at one of the most premier schools in the military: TOPGUN School. The book, titled TOPGUN’s Top 10: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit, is part memoir, part leadership book and an extremely quick read at less than 200 pages. Bus recounts how the lessons he learned as a pilot at TOPGUN helped him throughout his military career, and I also found them worthy of application in my line of work in the Army.


We had the opportunity to catch up to Bus and talk to him about his book and about the important role writing and reading played in his military career.

WATM: TOPGUN’s Top 10 is packed full of valuable and insightful lessons. When you were going through the course and later instructing, did you realize that you were learning these leadership skills or did the realization come after the fact?

Bus: I’ll give you the quintessential TOPGUN response: It depends.

Some lessons, like, “Nothing Worthwhile Is Ever Easy,” and, “Focus on Talent, Passion and Personality,” were apparent while I was serving as a TOPGUN Instructor. Others, like, “Don’t Confuse Activity with Progress” and, “Never Wait to Make a Difference,” started at TOPGUN but also benefit from experiences serving alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior leaders.

To be honest, the seeds for each of these lessons were planted back in high school because of terrific mentors from my church, community, and Scouting.

WATM: In the book, you make the point that the world is full of noise (social media, news media, things in life that don’t matter). How did Top Gun teach you to focus and what role has focus played in your professional career?

Bus: We call this “compartmentalization” in the aviation community — the ability to push aside distractors and focus solely on the task at hand. As I share in the chapter titled, “Stay Calm Under Pressure,” the ability to prioritize and sort fact from fiction is a critical trait, one that saved my life on a number of occasions.

TOPGUN accomplishes this feat by focusing on an awareness regarding the harm caused by distractions. You never have enough time in any given day to accomplish all that is asked of you. You’re flying high-performance fighter jets to the very edge of your capabilities. Like stoicism, you have to learn to master yourself before you can master the events around you.

WATM: Out of all the lessons you learned at TOPGUN, which one was the most valuable to you? And now that you are out of the military, has that one changed?

Bus: “Never Wait to Make a Difference” remains my favorite lesson. We can all accomplish some absolutely incredible results, many on a level well above our pay grade or position in an organization, if we commit to making a positive difference each and every day.

I’d say this lesson is first among equals… and remains so to this day.

WATM: I know you’re an avid reader and have published articles throughout your military career, did those two practices give you a competitive advantage in your military career?

Bus: Yes, I believe so, especially if you desire to make an outsized impact to your organization. A significant number of leaders who rise to senior levels of responsibility have embraced authorship: Gen. H.R. McMaster, Secretary James Mattis, service chiefs, senior enlisted, and many more.

Writing forces you to prioritize and align your thoughts, which also helps you to better understand what you care about and stand for. Publishing, whether in a professional journal or to a wider audience, significantly increases your chances of influencing others. Publishing also teaches us to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s no small task to put your thoughts into the public domain but like any muscle, the more you use it, the easier the exercise becomes.

WATM: Since we’re talking about reading, what book or books have been the most influential to you as a leader?

Bus: Each book can be paired with a situation or an experience in our life.

In high school, I really enjoyed Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Isaac Asimov — large chapter books that engaged my interest and imagination. As I started college, I really enjoyed reading biographies about senior political and military leaders, people faced with tough choices and limited resources. Then, as I gained seniority in uniform, I began to read more “ancient” history.

Reading is the least expensive form of learning. It opens doors into worlds we might never experience ourselves, teaches us lessons paid for by others, and generates increasingly complex ideas as our awareness grows. All these elements help accelerate us along our path to making an ever greater — and wider — impact!

Articles

Artist takes his craft to war and back again

When Poto Liefi awoke on September 11, 2001 he wasn’t thinking about being a soldier or going to war. He was a 38-year-old commercial artist working in Los Angeles, and he had just helped launch a new Sketchers shoe campaign for Target.


Poto was good at what he did and enjoyed the work.

After Poto pivoted from fine arts to commercial arts – a few years out of art school – he went from working on clothing and backpack lines to designing shoes.

“I learned how to create a product line,” he said. “And I also learned where my work fit relative to the entire product line.”

He followed his work for Sketchers with a line of hiking boots that, in turn, turned into Taos footwear, a women’s shoe company.

Then the World Trade Center towers fell, and the Pentagon was hit.

He decided to join the Army. Most of his colleagues in the designer world thought he was crazy. Even his recruiter – after visiting his expansive glass office – asked why he was leaving a comfortable world behind.

“I wasn’t satisfied with work anymore,” Poto said. “I had the news going all the time, and I felt a sense of responsibility to do something.”

The maximum age for recruits had just been upped from 34 to 42 when Poto showed up to Fort Jackson for basic training as a 38 year-old recruit. “I lucked out big time,” he said.

After boot camp he was given a 25M Multimedia Illustrator designation. “At first I thought it was stupid to get paid peanuts for the same job I was doing on the outside,” he said. “But after I did the research I saw there was a lot more to it.”

Poto was assigned to 304th Psychological Operations Company, and in 2008 he deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. He immediately put his skills to work on posters, billboards, and web content.

“I was surprised at what we were able to do with the proper messaging,” he said. “We actually had campaigns, branding the Iraqi Security Forces. We were getting a good, consistent message on the streets, and getting locals to rally around an ideology.”

He returned to the U.S. at the end of 2008. Less than a year and a half later he was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan with the 344th Psychological Operations Company.

“Just as I’d sold Iraq to the Iraqis I had to sell Afghanistan to Afghans.”

Part of the time Poto worked with the Australian Army based in Uruzgan, and there he realized they needed to deviate from the standard Army playbook to be effective.

“We had to take our military goggles off,” he said. “We weren’t the only media outlet the locals were exposed to.”

But in spite of the challenges Poto believes they accomplished their mission. He sums up his experience at war with a simple thought: “Pride shows.”

He returned home in March of 2011, a 43-year-old corporal ready to transition back to the civilian workforce. But it was anything but a smooth process. Reintegration was tough in spite of his pre-military work experience, a circumstance he blames on his age and the stigma of post traumatic stress. It took him three years to find a full-time job.

He finally landed a job as a supply chain manager at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Corona, California.

Poto’s transition advice to veterans following him back to the civilian side is straightforward: “Never feel entitled,” he said. “Be thankful, be respectful, and be real still.”

At the same time he held fast to his creative side. One day he took the image of a soldier who’d fallen in Iraq – PFC Corrina Lau – and superimposed it into a classic war poster. The result was powerful and immediate.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

“I got very emotional reactions from the first people I showed the artwork to,” Poto said. “They said things like, ‘This is alive.'”

Poto did similar artwork for the families of other fallen warriors, and the response compelled him to brand the effort “Freedom’s On Me.”

“Freedom’s On Me is a way to keep the legacies of these service members alive,” Poto explains. “These are people that were in the military, not a bunch of robots.”

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

See more about Poto’s artwork at Freedomsonme.com and on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran seizes a South Korean ship after the USS Nimitz does a U-turn

Iran seized a South Korean tanker and arrested its crew in the Persian Gulf on Monday as the US military continued an on-again, off-again military build-up around its border. The maneuvers came days after the first anniversary of the US assassination of a top Iranian general.


The seizure — which Iran described as related to environmental pollution in a statement reported by the Associated Press — came just one day after the Pentagon abruptly reversed a decision to move the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz out of the region just three days prior.

Little more was known about the seizure of the Korean ship on Monday morning.

The US and Iran have been flexing their military and rhetorical might over the past few weeks around the one-year anniversary of the US drone killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan 3, 2020. Iran has threatened revenge for the targeted killing of the country’s most powerful military official.


Last month the US Navy announced it was moving a cruise missile-armed submarine into the Persian Gulf for the first time in nearly a decade. Long-range US Air Force bombers conducted 30+ hour patrols over the region on several occasions from their bases in the United States. At the same time, increased rocket fire on US diplomatic and military compounds in Iraq — believed to have been conducted by Iranian proxy groups — forced the evacuation of non-essential personnel from several facilities. That led to another round of threats and counterthreats by US and Iranian officials in the Trump administration’s last days.

National security advisors convinced Trump not to conduct a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities last November, according to a New York Times report, despite strong encouragement from Israel. The Israeli government fears the incoming Biden administration will take a softer line on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has responded angrily to the provocations, which included last year’s assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist reportedly by Israeli operatives. 


The reversal of the Nimitz’s movements over the past five days alarmed several NATO officials who have repeatedly expressed concerns about what they see as erratic US national security moves post-election. 


“I feel like my briefings are on a 24-48 hour delay,” said a NATO official in Brussels, who asked not to be named criticizing a close ally.


“What we believe is that after weeks of pushing additional material and warships into the Gulf region to pressure Iran, it was decided to send the Nimitz home after a mission off the coast of Somalia in an effort to reduce tensions,” said the official. “NATO supported this de-escalation because tensions were dangerously high and there’s more than enough military firepower in the region to deter Iran.”


When asked why such an immediate reversal, the NATO official admitted that it was too early to tell. 


“I guess I need a briefing,” said the official. “I suspect they will say there was new information or a new threat and that the Nimitz was needed to stay in the area but there will be widespread suspicions that Trump overruled the redeployment for his own political or emotional concerns.”


The New York Times reported that Trump vetoed the redeployment of the Nimitz over concerns it made him look weak. 

A former US national security official, who is expected to join the Biden administration and thus asked not to be identified, said that the previous overflights of the region by long-range bombers — which the official described as not particularly useful for defensive operations — might have inflamed regional allies enough that the Pentagon concluded the Nimitz had to go, only to be overruled by Trump three days later. 


“The B-52s [sent from US bases] are useful on the first day of a major war because they can target command and control centers and anti-aircraft defenses from range with cruise missiles,” said the former official. “It’s an offensive threat and so long as they were over the Gulf, Iran would have been convinced of an imminent attack. But they go home after a few hours, the Nimitz can stay and support a much wider range of operations. So it’s an operational mistake to have tried to send it home at all but maybe this was forced by the outcry over the B-52s. Now there’s double confusion everywhere.”

The USS Nimitz — one of the world’s most powerful warships with dozens of attack and support aircraft — had been operating off the Horn of Africa in support of US forces deployed in Somalia as recently as Dec. 28, according to the US Navy. It is believed to be returning to a patrol position in the northern Gulf of Oman. 


For its part, Iran announced just minutes after that it had detained the South Korean tanker that it finds South Korea sanctions unreasonable and planned to discuss the sanctions and the detained ship with the South Korean deputy foreign minister, who is due in Iran this week for talks. 

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

Articles

This is the new guy in charge of finding America’s missing in action and prisoners of war

The US Department of Defense announced today the selection of Kelly McKeague to be the Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. McKeague was sworn in this morning during a ceremony at the Pentagon.


McKeague, who retired from the US Air Force in 2016 at the rank of major general, served as the DPAA Deputy Director and as the Commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, one of the entities merged in 2015 to form the Department’s newest defense agency.

“I know the importance of the agency’s mission and I look forward to working with DPAA’s team of dedicated professionals,” said McKeague.

Fern Sumpter Winbush, who has been serving as Acting Director, will resume her role as Principal Deputy Director for the agency, responsible for formulating policy, overseeing business development, and increasing outreach initiatives.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
Maj. Gen. Kelly K. McKeague (left). USAF photo from Don Peek.

“My time serving as the Acting Director has been challenging and rewarding as I worked to move the agency forward in our mission of providing the fullest possible accounting of US personnel missing from past conflicts to the families and the nation,” said Winbush. “As an agency, we have accomplished much over the last two years, and I am confident the incoming Director will take over an agency postured for continued success.”

McKeague, who served as an independent business consultant since his military retirement, says he is looking forward to this opportunity.

“I am humbled and blessed to serve on behalf of the families whose loved ones served our country,” he said. “The fulfillment of this agency’s solemn obligation is my honor to endeavor.”

A native of Hawaii, McKeague began his military career in 1981 as a civil engineering officer, serving in a variety of assignments at base, major command and Headquarters US Air Force levels. In 1995, he entered the Maryland Air National Guard and served on active duty as a civil engineer.

His assignments include the Air National Guard Readiness Center, followed by legislative liaison tours at the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force and the National Guard Bureau. He also served as the Chief of Staff, National Guard Bureau and Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump pardoned a sailor who took illegal photos of a submarine

President Donald Trump has pardoned a Navy sailor who took photographs of the classified areas of a military submarine.


Kristian Saucier pleaded guilty in 2016 to taking the photos inside the USS Alexandria in 2009. He served a 12-month prison sentence for the crime.

Trump referenced Saucier’s case often on the campaign trail as he criticized his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Also read: This is President Trump’s military wishlist for 2019

Saucier has said he merely wanted service mementos. But federal prosecutors said he was a disgruntled sailor who compromised national security and then obstructed the investigation by destroying a laptop and camera.

The news was announced by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee at a briefing March 9, 2018. It is only Trump’s second pardon, after the president pardoned Joe Arpaio, an ardent Trump supporter and former Phoenix sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt in August 2017.

The investigation began in March 2012, when Saucier’s cellphone, with pictures of the submarine still on it, was found at a waste-transfer station in Connecticut. Saucier was charged with taking photos of classified spaces, instruments, and equipment in July 2015 and pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information in May 2016.

In addition to a year in jail, he was given an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
USS Alexandria. (Photo by US Navy)

Trump referenced Saucier’s case numerous times during his campaign — in one speech, Trump referred to Saucier, a 22-year-old sailor at the time the photos were taken, as “the kid who wanted some pictures of the submarine.”

Vice President Mike Pence also said during an October 2016 debate that a service member who handled classified information the way Clinton did would “absolutely” face court-martial, though The Washington Post found it was far from clear that would happen. Saucier’s lawyer also compared the six photos his client took to the 110 classified emails the FBI found were on the private email server Clinton used while she was secretary of state.

More: 8 US Navy sailors who received the Medal of Honor

The judge in the case appeared to dismiss the comparison, as well as the argument that Saucier was being treated differently, saying “selective enforcement is really not a good argument” that didn’t “really carry much water.”

Saucier was released to house arrest at the end of summer 2017 and said later that year he thought “punishment isn’t doled out evenly” and that he hoped Trump would “make right by it.”

On March 10, 2018, hours after Huckabee said the president was “appreciative” of Saucier’s service to the country, Trump tweeted his congratulations to the former sailor, calling him “a man who has served proudly in the Navy.”

“Now you can go out and have the life you deserve!” Trump said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

One more sign Marines in Europe are preparing for a ‘big ass fight’

The US Marine Corps’ Black Sea Rotational Force left its base in Romania for training in Bulgaria this month, carrying out exercises that are another sign the US military is preparing for a kind of conflict that’s different from what it has faced in recent decades.

A Marine Forces Europe and Africa release issued earlier in July said units from the rotational force were headed to Bulgaria’s Novo Selo training area, “where they would be able to take advantage of the rough, verdurous terrain for multiple training events.”

“We deployed from the place where we’re stationed at in Romania to this training area in Bulgaria. That way we can utilize the training areas out here that are a little better suited for the training that we’re trying to accomplish,” an unidentified Marine said in a video released this week by the command, first spotted by Marine Corps Times.

The Marines carried out a number of exercises focused on combined-arms proficiency and on building operational capacity.


The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

Marines perform high-angle fire training with a Mk 19 40mm grenade launcher at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, July 2, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Abrey Liggins)

“During this training event we had snipers conducting everything from unknown distance ranges to live-fire stalks,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Kult, a combined anti-armor team (CAAT) platoon commander. “We also had our 81 mm mortar platoon conducting dismounted and mounted live-fire operations, both day and night.”

“We have our combined-anti-armor platoon conducting high-angle Mark-19 fire, which is a new thing for us,” the Marine said in the video. “It’s not really done in the Marine Corps anymore.”

High-angle fire with the Mark 19, an automatic grenade launcher that can fire up to 60 40mm grenades a minute, could come in handy if Marines engaged enemy personnel behind walls or other barriers, Marine Corps machine-gunners told the Times. Such fire could also be useful against Russian armor or other vehicles.

The gunners said that with skilled observers and good communications, high-angle fire — a skill taught at the Corps’ advanced machine-gunner course — from Mark 19s could quickly be walked onto a target.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Abrey Liggins)

According to the release, platoons from Weapons Company from the 1st Battalion of the 6th Marine Regiment, typically work independently, making the joint exercises at Novo Selo a valuable opportunity.

“We don’t always get together as a company and do these combined training events, so as a whole, it improves our unit cohesion,” said Cpl. Benjamin Lepla, a forward observer. “Now we know how long it takes for every section to set up their equipment and assault the objective from different positions.”

“The most important event that we’re doing out here is the combined attack utilizing the entire company,” Kult said. “It’s a unique opportunity because normally we’re all away from each other, either supporting other companies, or in direct support of the battalion.”

NATO forces have increased their presence in Eastern Europe in the years since Russia began its incursion in Ukraine in 2014, and US military units in Europe have been boosting their capabilities.

Earlier this year, the Army’s Ironhorse Brigade arrived for a rotation in Eastern Europe — but instead of sailing to Germany, the unit disembarked in Belgium for the first time in decades to practice traveling across the continent by road, rail, and barge.

During the most recent iteration of the Saber Strike Exercise, US armored units also practiced traveling across Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. During the exercise, Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts practiced rough landings on a highway in Estonia — a drill only recently restarted after being discontinued in the 1980s.

The US military has been shifting its attention to preparations for a potential conflict with near-peer competitors like China or Russia — a change outlined in the National Defense Strategy released earlier this year.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

Marine lubricates the interior of a Mark 19 grenade launcher at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, July 2, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Abrey Liggins)

Such a conflict would be different from the fights of the recent past, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has said.

“I don’t think the next fight is going to be a stability op/counterinsurgency: It’s going to be a violent, violent fight,” Neller said in mid-2017, according to Marine Corps Times.

For the Marines, it also likely means a change in operational focus, away from the Middle East and toward the Pacific and northern and eastern Europe, Neller told Marines in Norway late last year.

He stressed that amid that shift, Marines should remain ready for a potential conflict, predicting a “big-ass fight” on the horizon, according to Military.com.

“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” he told the Marines in Norway, who are part of a new rotational force meant to expand training and boost readiness. “You’re in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

A longtime Pacific ally that’s key to confronting China is tearing up a major military agreement with the US

The Philippines, a Pacific ally that has been on the front lines of US efforts to confront and deter China, especially in the contested South China Sea, notified the US on Tuesday that it was officially terminating a bilateral agreement on the status of US troops rotating in and out of the country for military exercises.


Finally following through on a threat he has made many times, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a critic of the alliance and a proponent of a foreign policy independent of the US, said he would end the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.

“It’s about time we rely on ourselves,” the president’s spokesman said, according to Reuters. “We will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country.”

Teodoro Locsin Jr., Duterte’s foreign secretary, tweeted late Monday that the Philippines was unilaterally terminating the agreement. The pact will end 180 days after the country notifies the US.

The US Embassy in the Philippines confirmed in a statement Tuesday that it received notice of the Philippines’ intent to end the agreement from its Department of Foreign Affairs, CNN reported.

“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance,” the statement read. “We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests.”

The US and the Philippines continue to be bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, but hundreds of US military exercises with the Philippines, such as the large-scale Balikatan exercises, could be in jeopardy.

Terminating the VFA also puts US counterterrorism support, deterrence in the South China Sea, and other forms of security assistance at risk.

The Philippines has been central to the US’s efforts to counter China’s growing power. Subic Bay gives the US Navy a port to repair and resupply ships that patrol the contested South China Sea, and Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts and Marine F/A-18 Hornets have used the nearby Clark Air Base for training. US special operations troops have also assisted the government’s campaign against terror networks in the country’s south for roughly two decades.

The move to end the VFA followed the US’s decision to cancel the visa of Philippines Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a key player in Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, the extrajudicial killings of which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of suspects and civilian bystanders.

“I’m warning you … if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate” the agreement, Duterte said in a televised address in late January, according to The Associated Press. “I’ll end that son of a b—-.”

While the VFA is only one part of a collection of security agreements, Philippine officials have expressed concerns that terminating it could have a domino effect.

“If the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot stand alone, because the basis of the EDCA is the VFA, and if the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot be effective,” Philippine Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told reporters before Tuesday’s announcement, according to CNN.

Drilon added that if the visiting forces agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement “are no longer effective,” the Mutual Defense Treaty “would be inutile and would serve no purpose.”

Duterte has previously threatened to end the other bilateral agreements and called for the removal of US troops from the Philippines, often in response to American criticisms of his drug war or concerns about US efforts to push the Philippines to confront China.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA enhances mental health treatment with measurement based care

How do we measure mental health?

Mental health treatment can be complicated, and adjustments are often needed to make it as effective as possible. When treatment isn’t meeting the Veteran’s goals or leading to improvement, VA encourages the Veteran and provider to discuss potential reasons and consider modifications or alternative treatments that better meet the patient’s needs.


To help, VA uses standardized questionnaires to measure change along the way. This process, known as measurement-based care (MBC), transforms the way VA delivers mental health care. MBC involves the following steps:

  • The Veteran routinely completes brief questionnaires about their symptoms and progress toward treatment goals.
  • The provider and the Veteran review and talk about the results together, using the questionnaire as a starting point for discussing what’s working in treatment — and what’s not. The provider explains what the findings mean and may offer ideas for changing treatment based on the results.
  • Based on these conversations and considering the Veteran’s perspective, the provider and Veteran work together to select the best treatment options.

Benefits of MBC

Data from MBC questionnaires can signal when treatment isn’t working. It also helps the clinician and Veteran develop a plan to get back on track. MBC helps foster an open dialogue between Veterans and their providers, ensuring that the treatment process is progressing toward each Veteran’s mental health goals. This dialogue may include meaningful conversations about personal goals, collaborative development of treatment plans, assessment of progress over time, and joint decisions about adjustments to the treatment plan. Veterans’ participation in developing their treatment approach has the added benefit of helping them to actively engage in their care.

Change can be challenging

Using MBC can be a pretty big adjustment for many mental health providers. Changing a health care practice is challenging even when the new method is simple, and the MBC approach involves several steps and many considerations. That’s why VA is rolling out MBC in phases, so that along the way we can learn from providers’ experiences the best ways to put MBC into practice.

Members of the VA Center for Integrated Healthcare, the VISN 4 MIRECC and the Behavioral Health QUERI are studying how providers at 10 sites are implementing MBC into their primary care and mental health integration programs. Their goal is to understand what it takes to help providers shift their practice to the MBC approach. Their results will be used to help providers at other VA sites figure out how to adopt MBC.

Coming to a VA location near you

Veterans in VA care may have already had MBC interactions with their providers. For those who have not, MBC is coming to a VA facility near you! VA is continuing to expand measurement-based care across its many medical centers, clinics and other facilities.

To learn more about MBC, download this handout.

For more information about the mental health treatment options offered at your local VA facility, visit the Mental Health Community Points of Contact Locator.

Interested VA providers can check out MBC resources, including handouts and trainings, on our MBC SharePoint page.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch: SpaceX just tested the starship they say will take us to Mars

On Monday, SpaceX conducted a short test flight of a full sized prototype of the Starship they say will soon ferry Americans to Mars.

The Starship SN5 Test Vehicle flew for only about 40 seconds on Monday evening before touching back down to earth at SpaceX’s South Texas facility. Short as the Starship’s little hop may have been, it was a significant leap toward SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s goal of mounting crewed missions to Mars.


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The SN5 Starship prototype isn’t the first iteration of the Starship to reach take off. Last year, a smaller prototype vehicle called the Starhopper completed a handful of short flights, reaching as high as 500 feet on one launch before returning to the ground. While these short trips may not seem significant, they actually represent two of the most challenging parts of a any space mission: the take off, and the return to earth.

Starship SN5 150m Hop

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The Starship mirrors the landing capability of SpaceX’s smaller and proven Falcon 9 rockets. The ability to land and re-use rocket stages has dramatically reduced the cost of orbital missions. The ship will eventually utilize an entire Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in service anywhere on earth today, as it’s first stage. The Falcon Heavy utilizes 31 individual Falcon 9 rockets for propulsion and boasts similar reusability.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

SpaceX Falcon Heavy during launch (SpaceX)

The SpaceX Starship prototype is powered by a single Raptor engine, but will eventually be equipped with six of the advanced rocket engines, which in conjunction with its powerful first stage, will give the ship a total crew capacity of up to 100 people.

The combination of the Falcon Heavy with the Starship will make SpaceX’s massive rocket entirely reusable, dramatically reducing the costs associated with long-duration space missions to the Moon or Mars. Importantly, the Falcon Heavy is the only rocket currently capable of making the long trip into lunar orbit with a crew onboard.

SpaceX is currently a strong contender for America’s upcoming moon plans to place astronauts on the Lunar surface by the mid-2020s. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked a flight around the moon aboard Musk’s Starship slated for 2023.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army and Navy just tested an advanced new air-to-ground missile

The Navy successfully completed its first Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) flight test on the AH-1Z helicopter on Dec.5 at Patuxent River.


During the flight, aircrew aboard the AH-1Z navigated the missile through various operational modes and exercised its active seeker to search and/or acquire targets, demonstrating its compatibility with the aircraft.

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA
An AH-1Z helicopter. (Photo from U.S. Marine Corps)

“Initial results from the flight indicate the missile performed as planned,” said Liam Cosgrove, JAGM flight test lead. “We will continue to conduct a series of tests to prepare for live fire testing of the JAGM off the AH-1Z scheduled for early this year.”

JAGM, a joint program with the Army, is a precision-guided munition for use against high-value stationary, moving, and relocatable land and maritime targets. It utilizes a multi-mode seeker to provide targeting day or night in adverse weather, battlefield obscured conditions and against a variety of countermeasures.

Related: What you need to know about the banned missile the US is developing

“This missile will provide increased lethality and better targeting capabilities, beyond the Hellfire’s laser point designating capability that the AH-1Z currently has in theater today,” said Capt. Mitch Commerford, Direct and Time Sensitive Strike (PMA-242) program manager.

JAGM is managed by the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. It will initially be employed on the AH-64 Apache and Marine Corps’ AH-1Z helicopters and is compatible with any aircraft that can carry Hellfire missiles. The Army will complete a 48 shot test matrix by May 2018 on AH-64 Apache aircraft in support of Milestone C.

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