When we left off, you were hanging from a pull-up bar trying to get your knees to your chest for the first time since Basic.
Max, in his wisdom, started you out in the gym, which is full of many helpful things, like dumbbells and molecules of air. He wanted you to develop a little stoutness at your center, because he knows what’s coming and you, silly wittle baby, do not. You’re wet behind the ears, is what he’s saying. And that’s not even 5% wet enough to pass the Max Your Body, Season 1 final exam.
Today, you’re either going to sink or survive.
Because it’s all well and good to be fit with both feet planted on firm ground, unbound and wearing comfy, civilian shoes. It’s been years since you were a fetus, so you’ve forgotten what it’s like when there’s water on all sides of you, it’s dark and murky, and it’s up to you to figure out where your next lungful of sweet, sweet air is coming from.
Today, Max would like to remind you of the primordial fluid from whence you swam. And to make it extra memorable, he’s going to bind your feet at the ankles and your hands behind your back.
If you haven’t tapped out at this point, it’s advisable that you tap a buddy to be in charge of Operation You Not Drowning. Everything all nice and secure? Excellent! In you go.
Your mission — and it’s too late to opt out — is to suppress your rational panic and concentrate on using all this handy fitness you’ve been developing to go Full Amphibian while the water rises around you. You. Can. Do. This. For nine months, this was your everything. You used to be the Chuck Norris of tadpoles. Time to make your mother proud.
And if you do start getting the urge to have a big baby meltdown, just remember, there’s a benefit to plunging in with Max.
The benefit is you’ve lost the illusion of control. There’s no turning back. And the alternative to rising to this most fetal of challenges is sinking to the most fatal of depths.
Death, at whatever depth, is dumb. So it’s your choice, baby.
Watch as Max takes your fear and drowns it in a municipal pool, in the video embedded at the top.
Wars are as culturally defining for a nation as its pop culture and politics. Each generation of war veterans breeds a new generation of writers who are willing to expose their scars and bleed them onto the page. The act itself violates a warrior-culture taboo: breaking the quiet professionalism ethos.
The Global War on Terrorism began when the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, and it continues to this day. It has been operating in the background of American life for the past two decades. Over 2.77 million men and women have deployed in direct support of it, creating a new generation of veterans and war correspondents who have seen fit to share their experience and knowledge through literature. What follows are seven of the most defining books of the Global War on Terror.
Maximilian Uriarte is the creator of the popular comic “Terminal Lance” and the author/illustrator of the graphic novel “The White Donkey.”
1. “The White Donkey” by Maximilian Uriarte
A beautifully illustrated and written graphic novel by the creator of the “Terminal Lance” comic strip, “The White Donkey” follows the story of Lance Corporal Abraham “Abe” Belatzeko, who joins the U.S. Marine Corps in the later stages of the Iraq War. In search of something he can’t explain, he trudges through the mundanity and physical discomfort of being a boot infantryman. Abe yearns for the opportunity to prove himself as a man and find enlightenment through spilling the blood of the enemy. But then the irreversible horrors of combat show him that war ain’t as glamorous as it’s portrayed in the movies.
When Abe returns home, the demons that were spurred from his experiences and regrets on that deployment cause him to disassociate from his fellow Marines, friends, and family. Uriate’s attention to detail in his realistic imagery is striking. He captures the essence of mid-2000s military and civilian life: The flip phones. The protests. The general population’s misunderstanding of the Iraq war. Through the story of this single Marine, “The White Donkey” takes us back to a war that has almost been forgotten.
Sebastian Junger is an American journalist, author, and filmmaker. In addition to writing “War,” he is noted for his book “The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea,” which became a bestseller and for his documentary films “Restrepo” and “Korengal,” which won awards.
2. “War” by Sebastian Junger
What’s it like at the edge of the world? “War” follows the paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade as they establish a forward operating base in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. The valley is a route used by the Taliban to smuggle in fresh troops and supplies for their Jihad against the Americans. The area has been left alone in the past because it was too remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, and too autonomous to buy off.
Private First Class Juan Restrepo is amongst the first casualties of the platoon on this deployment. His death leaves such a rift that they name their FOB after him. Aside from the occasional resupply helicopters and their sister platoon in the valley, the men are completely cut off from the rest of the world, deep in hostile territory. Facing the ever-present threat of being overrun by a determined and skillful enemy, they eagerly await their next firefight, as the boredom and repetition of war sets in.
Evan Wright is an American writer known for his extensive reporting on subcultures for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. He is best known for his book on the Iraq War, “Generation Kill.”
3. “Generation Kill” by Evan Wright
In March 2003, on the dawn of the invasion of Iraq, Evan Wright (a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine) joined the Marines of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. Taking a passenger seat in the lead Humvee full of colorful Marines, Wright followed them on a road trip to war. What makes this book so captivating is not the war itself, but rather how Wright was able to capture the personalities of the Marines he was with.
The dialogue between Sergeant Colbert and Corporal Person are masterful examples of how humor is amplified by and transcends the chaos of war. The mean-street-influenced philosophy of Sergeant Espera offers surprising insight into human nature and how the white overloads really control the people. Trombley’s cavalier eagerness to get his first kill is strangely relatable.
Wright also captures many of the shortcomings of the chain of command, from overly strict enforcement of the grooming standards to its recklessness in abandoning a supply truck carrying the colors that their battalion had taken into combat since Vietnam. In a vivid scene, the company commander, known as “Encino Man,” attempts to call in artillery fire that is danger close to his men, only to be stopped by his subordinates because it may get them killed. The internal strife and politics alongside the basic discomfort of life in a combat zone wears thin on the morale of the unit.
Sergeant First Class Nicholas Moore served in the United States Army for 14 years and went on 13 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. His military awards include the Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars, and the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device.
4. “Run to the Sound of the Guns: The True Story of an American Ranger at War in Afghanistan and Iraq” by Nicholas Moore
The true, firsthand account of Sergeant First Class Nicholas Moore, who has spent more than a decade preparing for and going to war with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. When 9/11 occurred, Moore was a young private going through Ranger School. He was not scared of going to war — he was afraid of missing out on the action. Everyone thought that the war in Afghanistan would end quickly, similar to the more recent conflicts in Grenada, Panama, and Somalia. Little did he know that he’d be taking part in some of the war’s most famous events, such as rescuing Jessica Lynch and Operation Red Wings, the latter involving the search for a U.S. Navy SEAL element that had been pinned down.
The foul-mouthed nature of Rangers is softened considerably in Moore’s account, which is due to the fact that Moore is a family man who wanted to set a positive example for his children. However, he has no qualms with friendly criticism of his fellow special operations units. In these pages, you’ll catch a glimpse of the intense operation tempo of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Moore’s personal and professional development from lower-enlisted to senior noncommissioned officer is in direct parallel to the changes the GWOT and Ranger Regiment underwent.
Fred Kaplan is an American author and journalist. His weekly “War Stories” column for Slate magazine covers international relations and U.S. foreign policy.
(Author photo by Carol Dronsfield)
5. “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War” by Fred Kaplan
The post-Vietnam War American military had adopted a “never again” philosophy toward fighting an indigenous guerilla force. The hard lessons it acquired in Vietnam through bloodshed were tossed aside as it returned to the Cold War-era of mass manpower military in a superpower conflict like World War II. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s vast tank columns during the first Gulf War left the U.S. the only super left on the planet. When the invasion of Iraq in 2003 ousted Hussein from power, a power vacuum occurred as the civil service administration run by the Ba’ath Party also collapsed.
General David Petraus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion, found that he was fighting off an insurgency in Mosul, which was unthinkable to the top military commanders at the Pentagon. Petraus’ academic studies and military career had prepared him for such a mission. While his fellow field commanders were doing what the military does best — destroying the bad guys and asking questions later — Petraus knew that was counterproductive in terms of winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. To defeat an insurgency, the U.S. military needed officers who were well-versed in politics, diplomacy, economics, and military strategy.
There was a loose network of officers in the military who sought to fundamentally change the way America conducted its war. They argued that the small wars the U.S. had been reluctant to engage in would be the wars of the 21st century, and that there was a need for a deep and comprehensive counterinsurgency plan in order to win them. The military would be its own worst enemy during this period because of the bureaucratic pushback that change and reform entails. It required a paradigm shift in the role of the military in these conflicts.
Marty Skovlund Jr. is the senior editor of Coffee or Die Magazine. He is a journalist, author, and filmmaker, as well as a U.S. Army 1/75 Ranger veteran.
6. “Violence of Action” by Marty Skovlund Jr., Lt. Col. Charles Faint, and Leo Jenkins
The 75th Ranger Regiment really came into its own during the GWOT. Marty Skovlund Jr., a former batt boy himself, gives an ambitious and in-depth overview of the regiment’s transformation from 2001 to 2011. Skovlund captures details such as the evolution of the combat gear worn to the change in operating procedures and mission scope. “Violence of Action” adds a personal touch with essays written by Ranger veterans and a Gold Star mother.
What stands out is how different every individual Ranger’s experience is in their battalion, yet each seem to have an overwhelming eagerness to complete the mission. Many small stories that would otherwise be lost in time are captured in this collection. Readers will get a sense of Ranger humor and crassness as these elite warriors seek to make the best of otherwise heart-wrenching and painful situations.
Still, a strong sense of duty and pride radiates through the pages as each man recounts their experiences in the toughest infantry unit in the world. No other book on the 75th Ranger Regiment does as much for the average reader in terms of understanding this secretive and oft-misunderstood unit.
David Burnett is a U.S. Army veteran from Colorado. “Making a Night Stalker” is his first book.
7. “Making a Night Stalker” by David Burnett
In the special operations world, all the glory goes to the ground pounders — Rangers, SEALS, Special Forces, and the special missions units. Yet the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), known as the Night Stalkers, is to aviation what Rangers are to infantry: an elite unit comprised of the best aviators in the Army.
Specialist David Burnett started his military career as a CH-47 Chinook mechanic, but found the assignment unfulfilling. While he did maintain the helicopters in his unit, he didn’t feel like he was personally doing anything to fight the war. That changed when he saw a group of crew chiefs preparing their helicopters for a mission. Impressed by their professionalism and that they didn’t miss out on the fun of riding on the birds, he applied for selection for the 160th SOAR while deployed in Afghanistan. A good omen appeared to him that day when he saw, for the first time in his life, a Night Stalker’s signature black Chinook on the airfield.
A five-week smoke fest known as Green Platoon is the selection process that each candidate must endure to test their mental fortitude and commitment. Burnette graduated, earned the maroon beret, and was assigned to Alpha Company, which is a Chinook Flight Company.
When he reported to the 160th, his new platoon sergeant handed him a stack of manuals and a list of schools, including Dunker School and SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) School, that he had to complete before he would be allowed to fly. Getting used to the high operational tempo of his unit, Brunette learned that remaining a Night Stalker during the GWOT was harder than becoming one.
US Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer recently sailed through the Strait of Hormuz with an armored vehicle strapped to the flight deck, ready to fight off drones and Iranian gunboats.
A light armored vehicle belonging to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit can be seen on the flight deck as an AH-1Z Viper lifts off in a recently released Marine Corps photo, NPR’s Phil Ewing first noted.
The Marine Corps LAV-25 has a high-end targeting system that directs its 25 mm chain guns and M240 7.62 mm machine gun. The Boxer is armed with counter-air missiles, as well as various close-in weapon systems, among other weapons. The Vipers carry two air-to-air missiles, rocket pods, a handful of air-to-surface missiles, and a 20 mm Gatling cannon.
The Marine Corps began experimenting last year with strapping LAVs to the decks of the amphibs — flattops capable of carrying helicopters and vertical take-off and landing jets, as well as transporting Marines — to make the ships more lethal.
In September 2018, the 31st MEU embarked aboard the USS Wasp, another amphibious assault ship, for an exercise in the South China Sea with a LAV parked on the flight deck, training to fend off the types of threats Marines might face in hostile waterways.
The AH-1Z Viper taking off from the Boxer.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)
“This was the first time,” Capt. George McArthur, a 31st MEU spokesman, told Military Times, “that an LAV-25 platoon with the 31st MEU performed this level of integrated targeting and live-fire from the flight deck of a ship such as the Wasp with combined arms.”
He added: “Weapons Company assets improved the integrated defensive posture aboard the Wasp.”
The Boxer was harassed by Iranian unmanned aerial assets in the Strait of Hormuz in July 2019, and the US says the warship downed one, if not two, of the drones with a new electronic jamming system. Another potential threat in this region is Iranian gunboats, which have targeted commercial shipping in recent months.
Marines with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, on a Light Armored Vehicle atop the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. E. V. Hagewood)
Commenting on why the Marines experimented with using armored vehicles on the flight decks of the amphibs, Marine Maj. Gen. David Coffman, the director of expeditionary warfare for the chief of naval operations, said in November 2019 that he “watched a MEU commander strap an LAV to the front of a flight deck because it had better sensors than the ship did to find small boats.”
That the Boxer was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz with an LAV out on the flight deck suggests that the ship was ready for a confrontation.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A popular former SEAL and television host Richard “Mack” Machowicz passed away Jan. 2 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. He was in his early 50s.
Machowicz was a SEAL for 10 years in both Team One and Team Two and left the Navy in 1995. Shortly after that, he landed a job as the host of the hit Discovery show “Future Weapons” where he used his tough, aggressive style and gritty voice to demonstrate the technology of various small arms and military technology to a voracious post-9/11 audience.
He was reportedly moved to hospice care in late December before friend and fellow SEAL Craig “Sawman” Sawyer posted the news on his Facebook page that Machowicz had died.
Machowicz had more recently signed on with the HISTORY channel to host its “Ultimate Soldier Challenge” show, where American teams of special operations troops were pitted against commandos from other countries.
In one episode, Machowicz runs a team of former SEALs against a team of private security contractors and former Russian SPETSNAZ commandos through a series of intense challenges.
According to his Facebook page, Machowicz was married in 2011 and leaves behind two daughters.
His media credits include 30 episodes of “Future Weapons,” 10 episodes of “Deadliest Warrior” on the Spike network and six episodes of “Ultimate Soldier.” Machowicz also published a motivational book “Unleash the Warrior Within” in 2002.
A few years ago, there was a viral Facebook post about a woman getting a haircut before Memorial Day weekend. She had lost her husband in a Navy helicopter crash months prior. He died on deployment, never having met their youngest son. So, when the smiling receptionist wished her a “Happy Memorial Day” after she had buried her spouse, the words cut extra deep.
Before you tag every veteran and service member on Facebook and wish them a Happy Memorial Day, remember that, in this community, Memorial Day means something much, much bigger than the start of summer. The day feels fraught with memories of those we’ve lost, mixed with gratitude for the times we’ve had.
While it is true that every day is Memorial Day for the families of the fallen, they aren’t asking that you stay inside and wallow.
But we do owe it to them to pause. Reflect. Remember. Honor.
Gold Star wife Krista Simpson Anderson, who lost her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Michael Harrison Simpson, in Afghanistan in 2013, said, “I get upset when people scold others for enjoying the weekend or having BBQs. What do you think our service members did before they died? Mike sure did enjoy his family and friends. What better way to honor them than to be surrounded by family and friends living. But we are also so grateful for your pause and reflection as you celebrate our heroes and the lives that they lived.”
Krista Anderson and her sons pose for a photo in 2014.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Butler)
Memorial Day and Veterans Day are different holidays with unique purposes — and unique ways to honor each.
How to honor Veterans Day
Veterans Day is the day to tag all your people, posting photos with your brother in uniform or the selfie with your bestie before he or she deployed. Veterans Day celebrates the living who served our country. Offer veterans a discount at your business. Call your favorite vet on the phone and thank him or her for their service. Attend a parade. Celebrate a veteran.
How to honor Memorial Day
Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring every single man and woman who has died for our freedoms — men and women who were mommies and daddies, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, patriots, incredible Americans and really, really great friends.
The United States Marine Band on Memorial Day.
(Photo by Spc. Cody W. Torkelson)
You want to honor and celebrate patriotism and the military this Memorial Day? Then you have to honor the complicated feelings surrounding it. Express your knowledge that this day is about remembrance.
Helen Viola Jackson was 101 when she died on December 16, 2020. Although she led an extraordinary life as a centenarian, she was also the country’s last Civil War widow according to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
James Bolin served as a Private in the Union Army, in the 14th Missouri Cavalry with F Company. He enlisted in the Union when he was just 18 years old on April 6, 1865. He married after the war and went on to have a daughter. When Bolin’s wife passed away in 1922 he found himself alone and unwell.
16 years later Jackson was a 17 year-old neighbor of Bolin who would look in on him and take care of him at the insistence of her father. Although 93 years old at the time, Bolin offered to marry her in payment so that she would receive his pension when he passed on. She was one of 10 children living on a farm during the depression era, so times were hard. Jackson agreed and they were married in 1936, although she never told anyone about the marriage. She continued to care for him until his death in 1939 but remained living at home on her family’s farm during her marriage.
She never did claim his Civil War pension and his daughter didn’t list Jackson as his wife after he died either. It is said that his daughter threatened to “ruin her reputation” if she did. Bolin did record the marriage in his personal family bible, which he gave her before he died. She never remarried and no children were born of her union with Bolin. Jackson kept her marriage a secret until 2017 when she began planning her own end of life and was encouraged by a pastor to share her remarkable story. That bible is now a part of a rotating exhibit.
Jackson was featured in the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival Auxiliary “Our America” magazine for October of 2020. “Mr. Bolin really cared for me,” she said in the interview. “He wanted me to have a future and he was so kind.” She also shared her reasoning for keeping quiet about the marriage, saying that she didn’t want people to think she was taking advantage of Bolin in his older age. Jackson also confirmed that her step-daughter did in fact threaten to ruin her if she told anyone. In 2019 a play called “The Secret Viel” was created about Jackson’s life and performed at the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival.
To honor the passing of America’s last Civil War widow, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War have draped everything in black. The organization also stated that each brother will wear a black mourning ribbon in Jackson’s honor for 30 days.
Her death signifies the true end to any link to that period of America’s history. It is now truly up to its citizens to remember and share the stories of those who paved the way for the freedoms we enjoy today.
An Army intern has received the nation’s premier undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering.
Nikita Kozak, an intern with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, is an Iowa State junior pursuing a mechanical engineering major. Kozak is now a recipient of a scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in STEM research.
Kozak is spending this summer working as an ARL High Performance Computing intern. He was one of 5,000 Goldwater Scholarship applicants from 443 institutes. Only 493 students were selected.
Kozak’s work at the Army lab is in optimizing gas turbine engines for variable speed operation. His experience working for the Army made him more competitive, he said.
“My time as an Army intern allowed me to develop into a better researcher and problem solver as well as providing me with real world research experience,” Kozak said.
The one-year scholarship is available to juniors and two-year scholarships are available to sophomores. It covers the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of ,500 per year.
Pictured left to right are ARL Sgt. Maj. Keith N. Taylor, undergraduate gold medalist Nikita Kozak, and ARL Outreach Coordinator Dr. Patrice Collins.
(U.S. Army Photo by Jhi Scott)
“This is quite a significant accomplishment,” said Dr. Simon M. Su, DOD Supercomputing Resource Center.
After graduating from Iowa State, Kozak plans to pursue a doctorate in mechanical engineering. He hopes to one day establish his own multidisciplinary research group focused on engine design and computational modeling approaches at a national laboratory.
Kozak, who is serving on his second summer internship at the laboratory, is co-mentored by Army researchers Drs. Anindya Ghoshal, Muthuvel Murugan and Luis Bravo, from ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate.
“Nikita Kozak is an exceptional student who has demonstrated a superior ability to understand scientific concepts, communicate complex topics with ease, and values working in a military ST environment,” Bravo said. “He has an impressive drive to reach the highest academic levels and has reached important research milestones using High Performance Computing in support of Army’s Future Vertical Lift program. I am very glad to see him a recipient of the Goldwater fellowship.”
Kozak said plans to keep his options open and continue working with his Army research mentors as his pursues his doctorate in mechanical engineering.
“My Army mentors treat as a collaborator, allowing me to explore and learn with freedom and receive expertise when needed,” Kozak said.
Halloween on a Wednesday is the worst. Sure, it sucks for the kids who can’t stay out late trick-or-treating, but it’s terrible being stuck in the barracks knowing that you’ve got a PT test in the morning. You can’t drink, you can’t party, you can’t do whatever spooky thing you wanted to do.
Thankfully, the holidays are almost here and there’re plenty of long weekends to make up for it.
Here’re some memes for you to enjoy as you deliberate on how you’re going to blow the rest of your deployment savings during the next 4-day.
The South Korean military is reporting that North Korea launched several weapons into the sea, perhaps a sign that North Korea’s patience with Washington is growing thin.
North Korea launched a barrage of unidentified short-range projectiles early May 4, 2019, local time, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a press release, according to the semi-official Yonhap News Agency. The weapons, which were initially identified as missiles, reportedly flew out to ranges of roughly 70 to 200 kilometers (43 to 124 miles).
At this time, it is unclear what North Korea has launched. The mysterious projectiles were fired from the east coast town of Wonsan.
North Korea’s last missile test was conducted in November 2017, when the country launched a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile — the Hwasong-15.
As an apparent good-faith gesture to facilitate bilateral dialogue, Pyongyang proposed a self-imposed long-range missile and nuclear testing moratorium while in talks with the US. Round after round of failed negotiations, which included two leadership summits attended by President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, have left both sides feeling frustrated.
The Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile.
In November 2018, after an abrupt cancellation of a meeting between the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart, the North tested a so-called “ultramodern tactical weapon,” apparently an artillery piece.
In April 2019, North Korea tested a “new tactical guided weapon,” reportedly components for a new anti-tank weapon.
A missile launch, while potentially intended to signal a desire for movement on bilateral issues, would not only undermine the president’s claims of progress with North Korea, but it would also risk bringing Pyongyang and Washington back to the exchanges of heated rhetoric and shows of force that had many wondering if nuclear war was just over the horizon in 2017.
The latest weapons launch comes on the heels of a meeting between Kim and the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the specific details of which remain murky.
Trump was reportedly “fully briefed” on North Korea’s actions by White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has been decidedly pessimistic in his view of negotiations with Pyongyang. Bolton has, in the past, argued in favor of using military force.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a $3.9 billion emergency spending package to fill a shortfall in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ program of private-sector care, seeking to avert a disruption to medical care for thousands of veterans.
The deal includes additional money for core VA health programs, as well. Veterans’ groups insisted this money be included.
The compromise plan sets aside $2.1 billion over six months to continue funding the Choice program, which provides federally paid medical care outside the VA and is a priority of President Donald Trump. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, Choice would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care.
The proposal also would devote $1.8 billion to authorize 28 leases for new VA medical facilities and establish programs to make it easier to hire health specialists. That cost would be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans.
VA Secretary David Shulkin. Photo courtesy of VA.
A House vote was planned July 28, before members were to begin a five-week recess. The Senate is finishing up business for two more weeks and would also need to approve the measure.
Major veterans’ groups had opposed the original House plan as an unacceptable step toward privatization, leading Democrats to block that bill on July 24. That plan would have trimmed VA benefits to pay for Choice without additional investments in VA infrastructure.
Put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA hospital, the Choice program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.
Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told a hearing on July 27 that the six-month funding plan was urgently needed and would give Congress more time to debate broader issues over the future of the VA. He was joined by Rep. Tim Walz, the panel’s top Democrat.
Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., (left) and Jon Tester, D-Mont (right)
“We are glad that veterans will continue to have access to care without interruption and that the VA will be able to improve the delivery of care by addressing critical infrastructure and medical staffing needs,” Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement.
Shulkin praised the agreement and urged the House to act swiftly. The legislation “will greatly benefit veterans,” he said.
Still, while the agreement may avert a shutdown to Choice, the early disputes over funding may signal bigger political fights to come.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump had criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, saying he would give veterans more options in seeing outside providers. At an event July 25 in Ohio, Trump said he would triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice” as part of an upcoming VA overhaul.
His comments followed a warning by the leader of the Veterans of Foreign Wars against any Trump administration effort to “privatize” the VA. Speaking July 24 at its national convention in New Orleans, outgoing VFW National Commander Brian Duffy criticized the initial House plan as violating Trump’s campaign promise to VFW that it “would remain a public system, because it is a public trust.”
Shulkin announced the budget shortfall last month, citing unexpected demand from veterans for private care and poor budget planning. To slow spending, the department last month instructed VA medical centers to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors.
“This situation underscores exactly why Congress needs to pass broader and more permanent Choice reforms. Even after they finish scrambling to fund this flawed program, too many veterans will still be trapped in a failing system and will be unable to seek care outside the VA when they want to or need to,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America.
Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014, as the VA’s more than 1,200 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care.
The VA has an annual budget of nearly $167 billion.
Remember those days back in the barracks playing hours of GoldenEye? Well, grab your battle buddies and license-to-kill because GoldenEye: Source, an unofficial and free remake of the N64 classic GoldenEye 007, has received its first major update in more than three years.
While there’s no single player campaign, the remake features 25 maps, 28 weapons, and 10 game modes. GoldenEye: Source has been a labor of love for the creators for the past decade, and that reverence for the original game shines through in the attention to detail evident in the trailer.
The remake runs on Valve’s Source engine — the same used for Counter Strike and Half-Life — so while the graphics aren’t quite Skyrim quality, it’s still a major facelift. The “choppers” look like actual hands instead of pork chops, and that should be enough. The option to use a keyboard and mouse or modern gamepad will also be a breath of fresh air for anyone who’s recently dusted off the old N64-console and tried to stumble through the original GoldenEye‘s outdated control scheme.