The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled - We Are The Mighty
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The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

Despite the lifting of a federal hiring freeze, the Department of Veterans Affairs is leaving thousands of positions unfilled, citing the need for a leaner VA as it develops a longer-term plan to allow more veterans to seek medical care in the private sector.


The order by VA Secretary David Shulkin is described in an internal April 14 memorandum obtained by The Associated Press. The VA indicated it would proceed with filling open positions previously exempted under the hiring freeze. Noting that the White House had ordered all departments to be leaner and “more accountable,” the VA indicated that more than 4,000 jobs would still be left vacant unless they were specially approved “position by position” by top VA leadership as addressing an “absolute critical need.”

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
VA Secretary David Shulkin. (Photo by Robert Turtil | Department of Veterans Affairs)

These positions include roughly 4,000 in the VA’s health arm and 200 in benefits, plus more than 400 information technology positions and over 100 human resource positions, according to VA data provided to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier in April. Government auditors have previously faulted the department for recent shortages in IT and HR, which it said it had hurt its ability to recruit and hire key staff department-wide.

Major veterans organizations also worry this could be a sign of future tightening at the VA, coming after the department had previously warned it would need “hiring surges” to address a rapidly growing disability backlog. The groups have cautioned against any “privatization” efforts at the VA that could expand private care for veterans while reducing investment in the VA itself.

“It seems to be a reversal of what they have been saying, and it’s disappointing,” said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters.

Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his group was concerned the VA would overlook positions that didn’t directly affect health care, such as staffing of its suicide prevention hotline.

Also read: These 5 vets discuss the ups and downs of the VA

In a statement April 26, the VA said the hiring restrictions were needed to “streamline VA’s corporate structure and administrative positions.”

While President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for a 6 percent increase in VA funding, the memo indicated that the government’s second largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees was no different from other departments that needed to improve “efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” and left open the possibility of “near-term” and “long-term workforce reductions.” Shulkin is also putting together a broader proposal by fall to expand the VA’s Choice program of private-sector care.

“This memo lifts the federal hiring freeze. However, this does not mean business as usual for hiring,” stated VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson. She said VA leadership aimed to proceed in the coming months with “deliberative hiring strategies” as it seeks to build “a future VA of Choice.”

The memo comes as the Trump administration seeks to highlight accomplishment and accountability at the VA. During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the VA as “the most corrupt” and pledged to expand private care.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
Palo Alto VA hospital. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Trump planned to sign an executive order April 27 to create a VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

Shulkin has acknowledged that the VA was hurt initially by the hiring freeze because it could not hire claims processors. Shulkin later exempted those positions, including 242 the VA earmarked for this year to specifically address an appeals backlog, a 36 percent increase. But the VA has said it would need an additional hiring “surge” of at least 1,458 full-time staff to stem a growing appeals backlog. The backlog was expected to exceed 1 million within a decade, with average wait times of 8.5 years. The current wait time is as many as five years.

Shulkin also has signaled, without naming specific locations, that underutilized VA facilities will have to close. “There are some parts of the country where facilities are sitting empty, and there is no sense in keeping them empty,” he has said.

Meanwhile, the VA is stepping up efforts to root out bad employees.

The executive order being signed by Trump would create a VA office to “discipline or terminate VA managers or employees who fail to carry out their duties in helping our veterans.”

Recent audits by the VA inspector general and a report by The Associated Press in February found a pattern of poor VA compliance involving equipment and drug inventory checks, putting patients at risk at the Washington, D.C. medical center and leading to a sharp rise in opioid thefts across the VA system since 2009.

In March, the Republican-led House approved legislation to make it easier for the VA to fire, suspend, or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct. But the measure has been slow to move in the Senate after Democrats and unions cast it as an attack on workers’ rights.

AP writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The soldiers identifying the Korean War remains

When her duty day is over, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen often wonders if she did enough to help identify fallen service members.

As the noncommissioned officer in charge of the morgue at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is tasked to account for more than 82,000 Americans missing from past conflicts, she analyzes human remains and personal effects in hopes to close a cold case.


“At the end of the day, I have to be able to look in the mirror and say I’ve done my best,” she said. “And when I get up in the morning, I say I’m going to do better, because these families have been waiting years and years.”

Owens is one of about 100 service members and civilians who work at the agency’s laboratories here and at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Each year, the labs identify the remains of around 200 Americans that are then reunited with families.

On Aug. 1, more than 50 cases containing remains believed to be those of American service members were provided to DPAA by North Korea.

The remains are now undergoing further analysis and identification at the labs.

The painstaking work, which can take months to years to complete, is Owen’s passion. Whenever a positive identification comes in, she said, it is as if the service member’s name is given back.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

An honor guard provided by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018. Carry teams will move 55 flag-draped transfer cases, containing what are believed to be the remains of American service members lost in the Korean War, to the DPAA laboratory at JBPH-H for identification.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

‘These Are All Heroes’

“What drives me the most is that these are heroes,” she said, looking across a lab holding hundreds of unknown remains. “These are all heroes [who] have a name and a family.”

Each year, DPAA conducts up to 80 investigation and recovery team missions throughout the world to pinpoint last known locations of missing Americans and to attempt to excavate their remains.

“The work is complex, the work is difficult, and it takes that dedication, that passion … to be able to perform this solemn obligation that we make to the nation and to the families,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.

The joint agency, which employs many service members and veterans, has agreements with nearly 50 nations that assist in its missions, he added.

Most of the missing fell at World War II battle sites in the Pacific region. There are also almost 7,700 service members unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.

DPAA teams were allowed to conduct missions in North Korea from 1996 to 2005, but operations were halted as diplomatic relations deteriorated in the region. Agency officials hope these missions could soon start up again.

Before he became the agency’s lab director, John Byrd had the opportunity to help recover Americans who fought in North Korea at the Battle of Unsan. The 1950 battle pitted Chinese forces against American and South Korean troops.

When remains are identified by his staff it is always a testament to good field and lab work that solved the decades-old case, Byrd said.

“It’s extremely gratifying,” he said, “and it kind of keeps you grounded where you know why you’re here and why you’re doing this work.”

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen, a morgue noncommissioned officer for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, examines a personal effect that may have belonged to a fallen service member in a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 12, 2018.

(Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

DNA Testing

A majority of DPAA cases involve some type of DNA testing. Samples are taken from the remains and sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab in Delaware.

To help this process, family members who have a missing loved one are encouraged to provide a DNA sample that will serve as a comparison.

If no reference samples are on file, a battalion of professional genealogists working for service casualty offices will try to locate family members.

Many times their starting point is the service member’s home address from the 1940s, if they served in World War II. This makes it extremely difficult to track down a living family member as the years pass on.

“It’s one of the greatest challenges of all. How do you find close family members of a missing serviceman from 1944?” Byrd asked. “It’s not easy. Some [cases] we run into dead-ends and we can’t find anybody.”

The Defense Department has kept dental records of troops dating back to World War I that can be used to help in the identification process.

In 2005, the agency also discovered another method that has proved successful. Many troops who served in early conflicts had to get chest X-rays as part of a tuberculosis screening when they first signed up.

Like the dental records, these radiographs were stored in a warehouse by the DoD. DPAA later obtained thousands of copies of them. Lab personnel use them as a comparison tool, since the shape of each person’s chest is different.

“The process of comparing this induction chest x-ray to an x-ray we take from the remains is analogous to doing fingerprint comparison,” Byrd said. “It’s a very similar kind of mindset that you take when you look at the two side-by-side; you’re looking for commonalities and differences.”

When a service member is identified, family members often come to the lab so they can participate in escorting the remains back home, he said. For those who work at the lab, those family member visits make the months or years of work seem worthwhile.

“When you have a family member come in and the staff who actually worked on the case get to meet them, they get to see the tangible results of their hard work,” Byrd said. “It’s definitely a boost to their morale.”

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

Members of the 647th Force Support Squadron search and recovery team tag and mark simulated remains during the search and recovery team’s training event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Oct. 27, 2017. The search and recovery team is tasked with recovering human remains from accident sites.

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)

In the Field

Before that sort of closure can start for families, recovery teams spend weeks at a time doing the grunt work of excavating sites.

Army Capt. Brandon Lucas, who serves as a team leader, recalled his team digging nearly 20 feet into the ground in Laos in search of an F-4 Phantom fighter pilot who vanished during the Vietnam War.

While no remains were found on that mission, they were still able to confidently close the site and shift efforts elsewhere.

Then there was another mission in Slovenia, where the tail gunner of a bomber aircraft from World War II went missing.

When his plane crashed, the gunner was the only one in his aircrew killed. Residents later buried him next to a church.

As Lucas’ team arrived at the site, the townspeople still knew about the crash and the gunner. Residents regularly visited his team, often bringing Lucas and the others food and drinks. An elderly woman even told him that for decades she would clean the grave site once a week.

When his team recovered the remains, a somber tone spread through the community.

“A lot of them actually shed tears when we found the remains,” Lucas said. “It was special to them and it was special to me.”

The poignant moment, along with others he has experienced during missions, galvanized the meaning of the mission for him.

“I’m potentially bringing back a fallen comrade,” Lucas said. “I would want to know that if it was me lost out there somebody is trying to recover me and give my family closure.”

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

(US Army)

Maritime Recovery

Recovery missions also extend out into the sea, where many service members have disappeared as a result of aircraft crashes or ships sunk.

While she served as commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Army Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson was an advocate for her unit to support the solemn mission.

The unit regularly supplies DPAA with highly-trained Army divers from the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, who often work on the sea floor with no visibility and use a suction hose to remove loose sediment from recovery sites.

On a barge, team members then sift through the sediment for the remains or personal effects of those missing.

When divers returned to Hawaii, she encouraged them to share their experiences and what they got out of the mission with others in the unit.

“They come back a different person and they have a different respect for our Army and for what we do,” Davidson said.

Back at the lab, Owen and others strive to identity those heroes who have been found.

“I feel that I am part of something so much bigger that I can contribute to,” she said.

Articles

This is how US ships defeat missiles without firing a shot

When the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) came under attack multiple times in October 2016, the ship was able in at least one instance to use its defenses to shoot down the incoming Noor anti-ship missiles.


But there are times when a ship can’t shoot down the missiles – and thankfully, U.S. Navy vessels have plenty of options.

There are a number of reasons why a U.S. Navy ship may not be able to fire. In some cases, it may be due to restrictive rules of engagement. Other times, the inability to shoot may be due to battle damage. Perhaps there’s concern about what a miss might do.

In those cases, the Navy relies on decoying an inbound missile in one of several ways.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) steams through the Atlantic Ocean. Mason is participating in Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) 08-4 as part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katrina Parker /Released)

One option is via electronic countermeasures, or “ECM.” Specifically, the goal is to interfere with the guidance systems on the missiles by confusing or blocking the seekers on radar-guided ones.

The confusion angle is very simple. An ECM system like the AN/SLQ-32 would create false targets. This gets the missile to hopefully chase into empty ocean. Another method is to reduce the seeker’s effective range with jamming. This would allow the ship to get outside the seeker’s ability to acquire a target — again sending the missile off on a merry chase to nowhere.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
An antenna for the AN/SLQ-32 system on board USS Nicholson (DD 982). (US Navy photo)

However, missile makers are wise to the countermeasures and haven’t stood still. The field of electronic counter-countermeasures exists to help make seekers both more powerful and more intelligent, enabling them to beat the ECM. Thankfully, there is another option.

Most U.S. Navy ships also have launchers for chaff. Like the deception portion of ECM, it creates a false target for a missile seeker. Unlike the deception portion of ECM, since it is actually physically metal, it creates a real “target” for the seeker to home in on.

Furthermore, firing a bunch of the rockets makes a bigger “target” – which the incoming missile will hopefully go for.

You can see a Burke-class destroyer launch a chaff rocket in the video below.

These are known as “soft” kills. The enemy missile is negated, but it is misdirected as opposed to being shot down. “Soft” kills do have a potential to go bad, though.

During the Argentinean air attacks on the Royal Navy on May 25, 1982, a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Ambuscade, fired off chaff to decoy incoming Exocet anti-ship missiles. The missiles flew through the chaff cloud and locked on to the Atlantic Conveyor, a merchant vessel carrying supplies for the British forces. Two missiles hit the vessel, which sank three days after being hit.

MIGHTY TRENDING

See the Coast Guard and Navy own cocaine smugglers in the Pacific

Members of the US Coast Guard, US Navy, US Customs and Border Patrol, as well as the Colombian navy, intercepted a go-fast boat laden with cocaine in the eastern Pacific Ocean in early April 2018.

The various forces fought a fire on the smuggling vessel before off-loading more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine.


A CBP Air and Marine Operations P-3 patrol aircraft spotted the boat, technically called a low-profile go-fast vessel, in the waters of the eastern Pacific on April 7, 2018. Go-fast boats are specially made vessels, typically made of fiberglass, designed to carry large quantities of drugs with a low surface profile, which helps them avoid visual or radar detection.

The crew on the P-3 reported the go-fast boat to the Joint Interagency Task Force-South, which directed the crew of the US Navy coastal patrol ship USS Zephyr to make an intercept.

After spotting the Zephyr, the crew of the go-fast boat began to throw their cargo overboard. They then jumped overboard themselves when their boat caught fire.

US Coast Guard Navy go-fast smuggling boat drug bust fire

A US Coast Guard law-enforcement team launched from the Zephyr caught up with the go-fast boat and rescued four suspected smugglers. Coast Guard and Navy personnel then fought the fire aboard the suspected smuggling vessel, extinguishing it in about 90 minutes, according to a Coast Guard release.

Coast Guard personnel and other US law-enforcement personnel were then able to recover about 1,080 pounds of what is believed to be cocaine. The Colombian navy ship 07 de Agosto arrived during the recovery to assist with documenting the case. The go-fast boat, which was severely damaged, was intentionally sunk.

“There was no doubt in our minds what needed to be done to salvage the evidence needed for a successful prosecution even if it meant laying Zephyr alongside a burning hull, with the intense heat and acrid smoke hindering our 90-minute firefight,” Lt. Cmdr. Grant Greenwell, commanding officer of the Zephyr, said in the release.

‘We’re basically giving all of this illegal activity a free pass’

The waters of the Pacific along South and Central America have become a particularly busy venue for traffickers.

Colombia, the only South American country with both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, is the world’s largest producer of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine. (Bolivia and Peru are the only other major producers.)

US Coast Guard go-fast smuggling boat drug bust rescue

Traffickers typically launch from secluded areas on the Pacific coast in Colombia, Ecuador, or Peru and head north. Limited government presence and corruption allow traffickers and criminal groups to operate with relative freedom in these areas, particularly in the coastal areas and inland waterways in western Colombia.

In recent years, trafficking routes have moved farther out, sometimes going around the Galapagos Islands, likely to avoid detection in waters closer to shore.

“During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by US and allied, military or law enforcement personnel,” the Coast Guard said in its release. “The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are conducted by Coast Guard members.”

The cargoes that make it through are typically off-loaded somewhere in Central America — Coast Rica in particular has become a busy drug-transit hub— and then they’re moved up the coast via another ship or overland through Central America and Mexico toward the US border.

More than 90% of the cocaine that makes it to the US comes through the Central America/Mexico corridor, though there are signs that traffickers are trying to increase production in Central America itself.

US Coast Guard go-fast boat drug bust fire

The US and international partners have stepped up their operations in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, including Operation Martillo, a US, European, and Western Hemisphere initiative launched in 2012, and through the US Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere strategy, which started in 2014.

The US Coast Guard has warned repeatedly in recent years that its resources fall short of what is needed to fulfill its interdiction responsibilities in the US’s southern maritime approaches.

“In 2014, we knew where about 80% to 85% of the activity was taking place, to include when a go-fast [boat] was leaving Colombia or Ecuador or somewhere in Central America with a shipment ultimately destined for the United States,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told Business Insider in December 2017. “But on the best of days we could probably put a ship over next to and a plane above maybe 10% of that 80% to 85%. We’re basically giving all of this illegal activity a free pass.”

Zukunft said the ultimate goal was deter traffickers and the people who sign on to transport drugs and contraband.

“We want these smugglers to look at that same risk calculus and say, ‘You know, you can’t pay me enough to move a shipment of illegal drugs, because I don’t want to get arrested. I don’t want to spend the next 10-plus years of my life in a US prison, where I’m severed from my family in isolation.'”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

General says Army needs to rethink readiness for war

The Army’s senior logistician told National Guard leaders to ensure their units are ready for the next war, because wherever and whenever it is, it will take the total force to fight and win.


“Place yourself on the battlefield and work left,” Army Materiel Command’s Gen. Gus Perna said via teleconference to more than 400 leaders gathered in Little Rock, Arkansas, for the Army National Guard’s Green Tab Commanders Conference Friday, Jan. 5.

Perna encouraged leaders to rethink the term “readiness.”

“If you get a call tonight, can you drive equipment from your motor pool to a train where it then goes to a port?” Perna asked. “Your equipment arrives at another port, where you offload it and drive into combat.”

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
Gen. Dennis L. Via (left), Army Materiel Command commanding general, presents Maj. Gen. Gustave Perna, AMC deputy chief of staff for operations and logistics, G3/4, the Gen. Brehon B. Somervell Coin-Medallion of Excellence following two years of service to the command in a ceremony at AMC Headquarters, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, July 11. (Photo by Mr. Doug Brewster)

Perna told leaders it was their responsibility to ensure their units’ Soldiers, equipment, maintenance, supply and administrative activities were in order.

Rather than focusing on reports and metrics, Perna urged leaders to think of their own organization in terms of its contribution to the total picture.

“I’m asking you to process readiness in a three dimensional way, beyond reporting and statistics. We must understand ourselves, know what our mission is, and understand our training, maintenance, supply and administration,” Perna said.

Related: Storm clouds are gathering over the Korean Peninsula

At the Army Materiel Command, Perna noted he is focusing more on maintenance trends than fleet readiness metrics, warning that fleet readiness reports could be misleading.

“If we have 10 steps to make coffee and accomplish nine, that’s 90 percent,” Perna said. “But are we drinking coffee? The obvious answer is no.”

Perna urged National Guard leaders to do what he is challenging his own leaders to do. “We have to see ourselves, look at things differently and challenge the status quo,” he said.

As the Army Materiel Command builds breadth and depth into the global supply chain, Perna asked for the National Guard leaders’ help as the organization is moving 1.2 million pieces of equipment to better equip units.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, performs systems checks on a UH60 Blackhawk during Decisive Action Rotation 18-02 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Nov. 24, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dana Clarke, Operations Group, National Training Center)

Perna acknowledged that the field is experiencing a shortage of equipment on hand. He noted that by shifting 800,000 pieces of equipment, all units across the total Army would be better than 90 percent equipped within the next two years.

When called to do so, Perna urged leaders to send their best equipment, keeping in mind the impact to the Army at large. The lateral transfers, he said, would mitigate shortages of equipment on hand across the force.

When it comes to divesting, Perna also encouraged leaders not to hang on to equipment they don’t need.

“We’re going to aggressively work this,” Perna said. “Don’t hold on to your excess — it’s not for ‘just in case.’ Think of what’s best for the whole Army.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The B-52 leaves the Middle East after crushing ISIS

The US Air Force announced that the last squadrons of the legendary B-52 Stratofortress have concluded their operations against ISIS in the Middle East and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and have returned home to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

“Following two years of B-52 squadrons employing nearly 12,000 weapons on Islamic State and Taliban targets across U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, the venerable BUFF flew its last mission April 7 [2018] before turning over the bomber duty reins to the newly arrived B-1B Lancer,” an Air Force spokesman said in a statement.


The bomber, nicknamed the BUFF for “Big Ugly Fat Fellow,” has been in service with the Air Force for 63 years, the last two of which it served as US Central Command’s go-to bomber.

Almost 12,000 weapons were dropped over the course of 1,850 missions on ISIS and Taliban targets. On average, B-52 aircrews recorded 400-450 hours in a single six to seven-month deployment, which is nearly three times the traditional 300 hours usually flown by B-52 crews.

A number of new records were also made. The 23rd Bomb Squadron celebrated its 100th birthday in June 2017, with 400 consecutive missions without any maintenance delays, breaking the previous record that was set during the Vietnam War’s Operation Linebacker II in 1972.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
A B-52H Stratofortress
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele)

In September of that same year, the B-52 surpassed the B-1 Lancer’s record of 761 consecutive missions without a maintenance cancellation by 73 missions, increasing the record to 834.

A B-52 dropped 24 precision guided munitions during a 96-hour air campaign against Taliban training and narcotics facilities in Feburary 2018, breaking the previous record (which was also set by a B-52) for the most smart bombs dropped on the Taliban.

American commanders have huge respect and admiration for the B-52 and its aircrews. “The BUFF did a fantastic job crushing ISIS on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria,” Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of US Air Forces Central Command, said.

“Some would say it’s a cold war relic,” Lt. Col. Paul Goossen, the commander of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, said. “But it’s such a versatile airframe that it keeps being reinvented and it keeps showing its usefulness and its relevance in every war that America finds itself in.”

US Central Command’s future bombing operations in its area of responsibility will be conducted by B-1 bombers.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA may now approve civilian urgent care facilities for veterans

Got a sore throat or a sprained ankle and don’t want to go to a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital? Got sick at 8:00 on a Friday night and don’t want to wait until Monday to see a VA doctor? A new VA program may be for you.

As of June 6, 2019, the VA offers medical care to eligible veterans at selected civilian urgent care facilities nationwide.


The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

Dr. Jake Williams, Veterans Affairs dentist, poses for a photo January 9, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)

This is an expansion of the VA’s Mission Act, which itself was an expansion of the Veterans Choice Act. The Choice Act was passed in 2014 as the result of highly publicized problems with veterans not being able to get appointments at VA hospitals in a timely manner.

Under this new expanded program, veterans are eligible to get limited urgent care from civilian doctors regardless of how close they are to a VA facility.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

The Wichita Veterans Administration Hospital, also called the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Wichita, Kansas, located at 5500 East Kellogg Avenue in Wichita, Kansas.

Eligibility

If you are enrolled in the VA health care system and have received VA medical care within the last 24 months, you should be eligible for this program. However, you should contact your local VA medical facility before visiting a civilian urgent care provider. Only certain services and providers are covered under this new benefit. If you visit a provider that isn’t part of the program, or you get medical treatment that isn’t covered under this program, you may end up paying out-of-pocket.

You don’t have to go to a civilian doctor if you don’t want to. The VA says that most of its locations, including hospitals and community-based outpatient clinics, offer same-day services for most situations.

You should contact your local medical office to check your eligibility. Or you can call (866) 606-8198. You can also find civilian community-care locations near you at https://www.va.gov/find-locations/.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled

Audie L. Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital in San Antonio, TX

Payments

One way this program differs from regular VA medical care is that you may have to make a co-payment to see the civilian doctor. The amount depends on your VA Priority Group and how many times you visit civilian doctors each year. Typically, you get three free visits each year.

Co-Payments for Office Visits

  • Priority Groups 1-5. There is no co-payment for the first three visits during a calendar year. For all subsequent visits, the co-payment is .
  • Priority Group 6. If the visit is for medical treatment related to combat and chemical exposures such as Agent Orange; contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, NC; Gulf War Syndrome, etc., as well as some mental illnesses, there is no co-pay for the first three visits during a calendar year. For all subsequent visits, the co-payment is . If the visit is not related to these conditions, the co-payment is per visit, for all visits.
  • Priority Groups 7-8. The co-payment is per visit.

There is no co-payment for any Priority Group for flu shots.

Co-Payments for Prescriptions

If you get a prescription from an urgent care center, you should fill it at a VA network pharmacy. If you go to an out-of-network pharmacy, you will have to pay the full price at the drug store and then file a claim with the VA to get your money back.

If you are given a prescription for what the VA considers routine or maintenance drugs (such as blood pressure or cholesterol drugs), you will have to get those filled by the VA.

Some veterans may be required to make a co-payment for medication. Prices are based on your Priority Group, as well as the type of drugs prescribed. For details, see https://www.va.gov/COMMUNITYCARE/revenue_ops/copays.asp.

When the benefit starts, you will be able to contact the VA Health Resource Center for questions related to urgent care co-payments at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

Stay on Top of Your Military Benefits

Not sure what your veteran health care benefits are? Keep up with all the changes and details. Sign up for a free Military.com membership and get all the latest updates straight to your inbox.

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

Articles

The Marine Corps is offering PhDs to officers in exchange for 6 more years of service

The US Marine Corps wants to add another title in front of some of its officers’ ranks: Doctor.


The service is establishing two pilot programs to offer qualified majors through lieutenant colonels with a doctorate-level education on the Corps’ dime, as long as they agree to stay in the service for an additional six years.

The program’s goal is to develop a “cohort of strategic thinkers and technical leaders capable of applying substantive knowledge, directing original research, and leveraging relationships with industry and elements of national security … to achieve the innovative thinking desired by the Marine Corps,” according to the announcement August 3.

“Uniformed doctorates provide the Marine Corps deployable, highly-skilled manpower in support of senior leader decision-making as well as helping generate national, defense, and service strategies in an increasingly complex world.”

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
An airman works on shaping a bridge as part of a doctorate program. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin west.

The pilot will likely be competitive, since only four officers will ultimately be picked; two will be required to pursue a doctorate in strategic affairs, while two others will be required to attend a doctoral program with a technical focus.

Applicants will be required to already have a masters degree, or currently be pursuing one if they are applying for the technical doctorate.

The Corps wants officers to get technical degrees in operations research, modeling virtual environments and simulation (MOVES), information sciences, or computer science, the announcement says. Strategy degrees should be geared toward  national security, military history, public policy, political science, government, or some other related field.

Applications are being accepted until the end of August 2017.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Britain’s newest carrier can’t defend itself in a fight

The Royal Navy has spent a lot of money on the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will enter service this year, and HMS Prince of Wales, slated to enter service in 2020. But these vessels, with the billions of pounds spent on their construction, may have a serious flaw that could have fatal consequences.


The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
Pictured is HMS Queen Elizabeth under anchor. (UK Ministry of Defense Photo)

Let’s acknowledge some basic Aircraft Carrier 101: The primary weapon of an aircraft carrier is the aircraft on board. For the Queen Elizabeth class, this will likely be at least two dozen V/STOL version of the Joint Strike Fighter, what America calls the F-35B, along with Merlin HM.2 helicopters. This is a very potent air wing, arguably the most potent the Royal Navy has deployed on a carrier.

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The Royal Navy’s largest ever warship HMS Queen Elizabeth is gently floated out of her dock for the first time in Rosyth, Scotland in July 2014. (Photo from U.K. MOD)

But take a look at America’s newest entry in that class: The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). Yes, it has an air wing with four squadrons of multi-role fighters, plus others of helicopters, electronic warfare planes, and airborne radars. But it also has self-defense systems.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) test fires its NATO Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile System during a combat system ship qualification trial. Theodore Roosevelt is underway preparing for future deployments. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The Sixteenth Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World reports that the Ford has RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles, and Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems. This provides three layers of defense against incoming missiles that the escorts don’t shoot down first.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) launches a RIM-116B missile from a rolling airframe missile launcher during a live-fire exercise. Harry S. Truman has successfully completed a tailored shipboard test availability and final evaluation problem and is underway preparing for future operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn)

The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will be equipped with three Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems. There are four 30mm autocannon for use against small boats. That’s it. Only one layer of defense – and that one layer isn’t quite the state of the art. Naval-Technology.com reports that the Queen Elizabeth is fitted for the ASTER 15 missile (now called the Sea Viper), but actual installation depends on finds being made available.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
An MK15 Phalanx close-in weapons system (CWIS) fires during a live-fire exercise aboard the amphibious assault ship USS WASP (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina/Released)

This is a glaring omission. The United Kingdom lost eight aircraft carriers in World War II. Unless this armament issue is resolved, HMS Queen Elizabeth could be the ninth. You can see more about this potential Achilles Heel in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6tTJtu2ON0
Articles

Airborne satellite increases in-flight situational awareness for paratroopers

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Army paratroopers load onto a C-17 Globermaster III aircraft during an airborne operations exercise on Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 11, 2012. The soldiers are assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller


Army paratroopers jumping out of C-17s to descend from the sky into an assault on enemy locations — will now land equipped with better intelligence information to achieve their combat objective, attack enemies and perform missions.

The Army has deployed and emerging airborne satellite system which allows paratroopers to communicate with voice, video and data while flying toward their mission.

The technology, called Enroute Mission Command Capability, or EMC 2, is currently fielded with the Global Response Force at Fort Bragg, NC, a unit including portions of the service’s 82nd Airborne. The GRF is tasked with forcible-entry parachute assault into hostile, high-threat areas, according to Army statements.

Used during the Gulf War in the early 90s, the GRF is tasked with a rapid mission to mobilize and deploy within 96 hours.

The idea with EMC 2 is to give Army paratroopers key, combat-relevant tactical and strategic information about their combat destination while in transit. For instance, EMC 2 can give soldiers an ability to view digital maps, battlefield assessments and intelligence information while traveling to a location instead of needing to wait until they arrive.

The VA still has thousands of jobs unfilled
Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team walk toward aircraft as they prepare for a mass-tactical airborne training exercise Feb. 25, 2013, Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C. Many of the paratroopers are carrying in excess of 100 pounds of gear. | U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

“This gives Global Response Force members eyes and ears as they are in route to their mission objective,” Paul Mehney, Director of Communications for Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

If paratroopers needed to land quickly and attack and objective for an offensive assault, raid, or hostage rescue – they would land on the ground already having combat relevant details such as location, composition, weapons or force structure of a given enemy location.

The mobile, airborne satellite network is a new extension of the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T – a ground-based, high-speed radio and satcom network allowing commanders to chat, view digital maps and exchange data between forward bases and while on-the-move in vehicles.

“We will continue to develop this over the next several years,” Mehney added.

During recent demonstrations, EMC 2 has brought the capability into the cargo section of a C-17 using commercial satellite connections, bringing paratroopers on the move the ability to monitor developments while in transit. The EMC 2 technology uses modified Air Force C-17s engineered to operate with AN/PRC-152 wideband networking radio, commercial satellites and the ANW2 waveform.

“We are interested in helping the Army learn how it will make use of this to support scalable expeditionary operations in a range of environments,” Mehney explained.

Articles

The controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay has existed longer than you think

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Wikipedia


Early Tuesday morning, Obama announced a four-part plan to ensure the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a goal that has eluded the president since he promised to shutter the facility during his 2008 campaign.

The plan would bring some of the 91 remaining detainees to maximum security prisons in the United States, while others would be transferred to foreigns countries. Although Obama called on Congress to lift a ban barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., the White House has also left open the possibility of unilateral action should Republican lawmakers refuse to cooperate.

“The plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo,” Obama said to the nation from the Roosevelt Room. “This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

With history in mind, it seems significant that the speech was given on this day, in this venue. Exactly 113 years ago, following the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt signed an agreement with Cuba to lease parts of Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a naval station.

This agreement was actually a follow-up to the Platt Amendment, a 1901 resolution that dictated seven conditions for the withdrawal of United States troops from Cuba, along with an eighth condition stipulating that Cuba include these terms in their new constitution. The amendment gave the United States full control over a 45 square-mile portion of Guantanamo Bay, in order to “enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba.” The deal was officiated on behalf of the Cubans by Tomás Estrada Palma, an American citizen who would become the first president of Cuba.

A cartoon protesting the Platt Amendment | Wikipedia A cartoon protesting the Platt Amendment | Wikipedia

Three decades later, the 1934 Cuban–American Treaty of Relations repealed most provisions of the Platt Amendment as part of FDR’s “good neighbor policy.” The effort, ostensibly intended to give the Cuban government greater sovereignty, made the lease on Guantanamo permanent unless the United States abandoned the base or both countries agreed to terminate the agreement. The new treaty also updated the yearly lease payment from $2000 in U.S. gold coins to $4035 in U.S. dollars. This amount has remained unchanged in the 82 years since.

Since the Cuban revolution of 1959, the Castro government has cashed only one of these checks (this one supposedly by accident), keeping the rest untouched as a means of protest against what they consider an “illegal” occupation. According to the U.S., cashing even one check renders the treaty valid.

The use of Guantanamo as a prison began in 1991, following the overthrow of Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. While the CIA secretly leant support to death squads killing Aristide’s supporters, the White House announced that it would be using Guantanamo as a “tent shelter” for those fleeing violence in Haiti. Of the 30,000 refugees interned at Guantanamo, those who presented discipline problems were held on a site that would later become Camp Xray, also known as the Guantanamo detention camp.

Following Bush Sr.’s disputed decision to send the exiles back to war-torn Haiti, the Supreme Court ruled that the Haitians were not entitled to U.S. rights because Guantanamo Bay fell under the sovereignty of Cuba. Interestingly, this rationale for the United States not technically having sovereignty over the land would come up again, twelve years later, as George W. Bush’s administration argued that Guantanamo prisoners should not be constitutionally entitled to habeas review.

This is all to say that, even before it became an international symbol for the War on Terror, the policies leading to and enforcing the U.S. ownership of Guantanamo Bay have been extremely controversial. As renewed attention is focused on the use of Guantanamo as a terrorist detention center, it’s well worth considering how this small Cuban harbor became a U.S.-run prison in the first place.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump reveals new details about the mysterious ‘super duper missile’ in West Point graduation speech

President Donald Trump revealed new details about a mystery missile during an address at West Point Saturday, appearing to offer new insight into a high-speed weapon he previously called the “super duper missile.”

In mid-May, Trump boasted about US military strength from the Oval Office, and in the process, he announced that the US is building a new missile faster than anything currently available.


“We’re building incredible military equipment at a level that nobody has ever seen before. We have no choice with the adversaries we have out there,” the president said.

“We have — I call it, the ‘super duper missile,'” Trump said, explaining that he “heard the other night, 17 times faster than what they have right now, when you take the fastest missile we have right now.”

“You’ve heard Russia has five times and China’s working on five or six times. We have one 17 times, and it’s just gotten the go-ahead,” he said.

The prevailing view of the president’s remarks was that the president was referring to some type of hypersonic weapon. The Department of Defense said in a statement shortly after the president’s announcement that the Pentagon “is working on developing a range of hypersonic missiles to counter our adversaries.”

Hypersonic weapons are able to travel at high speeds and along unpredictable flight paths, making them difficult for traditional air-and-missile defense systems to intercept. The development of these weapons has become a point of competition between the US, Russia, and China.

Speaking to the graduating class of 2020 at the US Military Academy at West Point Saturday, Trump provided new information on the weapon he boasted about last month.

“We are building new ships, bombers, jet fighters, and helicopters by the hundreds. New tanks, military satellites, rockets and missiles, even a hypersonic missile that goes 17 times faster than the fastest missile currently available in the world.”

He said that the missile can strike a target 1,000 miles away, striking within 14 inches of center point. These appear to be the most specific details to date about the missile in question.

Trump’s description of the new missile as being 17 times faster than the fastest missile currently available in the world is likely an exaggeration or a misunderstanding, for while hypersonic systems tend to be faster than some missiles, such as Tomahawk cruise missiles, they tend to be slower than some ballistic missiles.

For instance, the US Air Force’s LGM-30 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile can hit speeds as high as Mach 23, over 17,600 mph. A weapon able to travel at speeds 17 times faster than that would be unbelievably fast.

In February, the president touted US military strength while discussing “superfast missiles,” which he described with slower speeds than the weapon he discussed Saturday.

“We have the superfast missiles — tremendous number of the superfast. We call them ‘superfast,’ where they’re four, five, six, and even seven times faster than an ordinary missile,” he said at the time.

The US conducted a test of a hypersonic glide vehicle in March, verifying a design that will be used to develop weaponry expected to come online in the next few years.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this WW2 pilot take to the skies in his old trainer aircraft

WWII pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin decided to join the military after the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.


I decided at that moment that I was going to fly fighter planes against the Japanese.

And he did. A P-51 driver, he flew 19 missions in total — including the very last combat mission over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. After the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Yellin said he didn’t think they’d ever have to fly again, but when Japan refused to surrender, he and his wingmen took to the skies.

On Aug. 13, four days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yellin was ordered to fly a mission over Nagoya, a hub for Japanese aircraft manufacturing and war equipment production. Before takeoff, his wingman, Phil Schlamberg, told Yellin, “If we go on this mission, I’m not coming back.”

 

(American Veterans Center | YouTube)

 

Yellin told his wingman to stay on his wing. They exchanged a thumbs up from their cockpits, but Schlamberg’s feeling proved to be true — he went missing during the mission.

It was the last combat mission of World War II, and according to Yellin, Schlamberg was the last casualty. To his dismay, Yellin learned that the Japanese had surrendered three hours before, but the pilots didn’t receive the message in time.

Also read: This WW2 veteran recalls guarding Nazi POWs and the Dachau concentration camp

This year, Yellin took to the skies again in a Stearman PT-17, just like the one he trained in during the war at the once-called Thunderbird Field II at the Scottsdale Airport. His flight was part of a Veterans Day event to build a memorial to honor early aviation pioneers and veterans.

Having a museum to remind people of who we were then and what we are now is extremely, extremely important.

Check out Capt. Yellin’s flight and hear the inspiring vet talk about what it meant to serve during World War II right here:

 

(Sequence Media Group | YouTube)