In early April 2016, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charlie Linville departed the U.S. with The Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz. Their destination was Nepal and their third attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the top of the world.
Linville is an Afghanistan veteran and father of two who had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of an IED attack. Medvetz is the founder of The Heroes Project and a former member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. They arrived at the Everest base camp on April 17 and reached the summit of the mountain on May 19, making Linville the first combat wounded veteran to make it to the top.
Their first two attempts to summit the mountain failed. In 2014, they made it to Lobuche Peak just above Everest Base Camp when a serac, a huge ice tower, separated from the Khumbu Icefall. The resulting avalanche killed 18 sherpas. They opted not to proceed out of respect for the dead.
And in 2015, they were once again on the mountain when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, killing thousands and devastated the region. Linville and Medvetz decided to link up with Team Rubicon’s Operation Tenzig, distributing food and first aid to villages in the Nepalese countryside that the Red Cross couldn’t access.
Linville and Medvetz climbed the mountain with videographer Kazuya Hiraide and producer Ed Wardle. The team is currently descending the mountain.
So, you’ve got a fever and the only cure is a consensual adult relationship that violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice? It happens.
And by the way, it can happen among friends, but for this article, we’re going to talk about sexual or romantic relationships.
Paraphrasing here from the
Manual for Courts Martial: Fraternization in the military is a personal relationship between an officer and an enlisted member that violates the customary bounds of acceptable behavior and jeopardizes good order and discipline.
That’s a mouthful, but it boils down to the intent of guidelines for any relationship among professionals: The appearance of favoritism hurts the group, and, with the military in particular, could actually get someone killed.
But we’re only human, right? It’s natural to fall for someone you work with, so here are a couple of tips that can help keep you out of Leavenworth:
1. Don’t do it
Seriously. Cut it off when you first start to feel the butterflies-slash-burning-in-your-loins. Flirting is a rush and it’s fun and
Hit the gym. Take a break.
Swipe right on Tinder. Do whatever you have to do to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control.
2. Be discreet
Okay, fine, you’re going for it anyway. We’ve all been there (nervous laughter…).
People are more intuitive than you think. Don’t give them any reason to suspect you and your illicit goings-on. Be completely professional at work. Don’t flirt in the office. Don’t send sweet nothings over government e-mail (yes, it is being monitored).
3. Keep it off-base
Don’t be stupid, okay? Get away from the watchful eyes all the people around you who live and breathe military regulations.
4. Square away
The thing about military punishment is that you are usually judged by your commander first. If you do get caught, you want people to really regret the idea of punishing you.
Be amazing at your job — better yet, be the best at your job. Be irreplaceable. Be a leader and a team player and a bad ass. Set the example with your physical fitness and your marksmanship and your ability to destroy terrorism.
Be beloved by all and you just might get away with a slap on the wrist…
5. Plausible deniability
I would never tell you to lie because integrity and honor are all totes important and stuff, but…
If lawyers can’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were actually engaged in criminal activity, you could be spared from a conviction.
Maybe it was just a coincidence that you both
happened to be volunteering at the same time. It was for the orphans…
How could you have known that you both like to spend Christmas in Hawaii?
It’s not your fault Sgt. Hottie wanted to attend a concert in the same town where your parents live, right?
6. Talk it out
If you can’t have a mature conversation with this person about how to conduct yourselves in the workplace or how you’d each face the consequences of being discovered, you really shouldn’t be getting it on.
You are both risking your careers and livelihoods because of this relationship — don’t take it lightly.
And whatever you do, treat each other with honesty and respect — you’re all you have right now.
7. Don’t go to the danger zone
I know you know this, but here’s the thing: REALLY DON’T DO IT (PUN INTENDED) WHILE IN A COMBAT ZONE.
This is life and death. Remind yourself why you chose to serve your country. Pay attention to the men and women around you who trust you and rely on you to protect them.
LOCK IT UP. You’re a warrior and you have discipline.
Did we leave anything out? Leave a comment and let us know.
Former Navy SEAL officer Chris Fussell has spent the past four years adapting strategies he learned in the special forces to the corporate world.
He’s the chief growth officer of retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s consulting firm, the McChrystal Group, which has worked with companies like Intuit and Seagate Technologies to streamline management and communications systems.
Fussell explains to Ferriss that the best advice he received early in his military career stays with him to this day. One of his mentors taught him that you should always have three people that you’re paying attention to within your organization:
Someone senior who you would like to emulate
A peer who you think is better at the job than you are
A subordinate who is doing your previous job better than you did
This roster is always subject to change, Fussell says, and you don’t need to let the people you’re following know that you’re doing so.
“If you just have those three individuals that you’re constantly measuring yourself off of and who you’re constantly learning from,” Fussell says, “you’re gonna be exponentially better than you are.”
Cybersecurity firms have found clues that last weekend’s global “ransomware” attack, which infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries, could be linked to North Korea.
The security companies Sympantec and Kaspersky Lab said on May 15 that portions of the “WannaCry” ransomware used in the attacks have the same code as malware previously distributed by Lazarus, a group behind the 2014 Sony hack blamed on North Korea.
“This is the best clue we have seen to date as to the origins of WannaCry,” Kaspersky researchers said.
But it’s possible the code was simply copied from the Lazarus malware without any other direct connection, the companies said.
Symantec said the similarities between WannaCry and Lazarus tools “so far only represent weak connections. We are continuing to investigate for stronger connections.”
Israeli security firm Intezer Labs said it agreed that North Korea might be behind the attack.
Vital Systems Paralyzed
The WannaCry virus over the weekend paralyzed vital computer systems around the world that run factories, banks, government agencies, and transport systems in some 150 countries.
The virus mainly hit computers running older versions of Microsoft Windows software that had not been recently updated.
But by May 15, the fast-spreading extortion scheme was waning. The only new outbreaks reported were in China, where traffic police and schools said they had been targeted, but there were no major disruptions.
The link to North Korea found by the security firms will be closely followed by law-enforcement agencies around the world, including Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser said on May 15 that both foreign nations and cybercriminals were possible culprits.
Symantec and Kaspersky said they need to study the code more and asked for others to help with the analysis. Hackers reuse code from other operations at times, so even copied lines fall well short of proof.
U.S. and European security officials told the Reuters news agency that it was still too early to say who might be behind the attacks, but they did not rule out North Korea as a suspect.
The Lazarus hackers, acting for impoverished North Korea, have been more brazen in pursuit of financial gain than some other hackers, and have been blamed for the theft of $81 million from a Bangladesh bank.
Moreover, North Korea might have motives to launch such a large-scale, global attack as its economy is crumbling under some of the stiffest-ever UN economic sanctions imposed over its repeated testing of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.
The United Nations Security Council on May 15 condemned Pyongyang’s latest missile test the previous day, and vowed to take further measures, including possible new sanctions, in response to its “highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance” of existing prohibitions against such tests.
Whoever is responsible, the perpetrators of the massive weekend attacks have raised very little money thus far — less than $70,000 from users looking to regain access to their computers, according to Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert.
Some private sector cybersecurity experts do not believe the motive of the attacks was primarily to make money, given the apparently meager revenues that were raised by the unprecedented large operation. They said that wreaking havoc likely was the primary goal.
The countries most affected by WannaCry were Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine, and India, according to Czech security firm Avast.
Bossert denied charges by Russian President Vladimir Putin and others that the attacks originated in the United States, and came from a hacking tool developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that was later leaked online.
“This was not a tool developed by the NSA to hold ransom data. This was a tool developed by culpable parties, potentially criminals or foreign nation-states, that were put together in such a way as to deliver phishing e-mails, put it into embedded documents, and cause infection, encryption, and locking,” Bossert said.
British media were hailing as a hero a 22-year-old computer security expert who appeared to have helped stop the attack from spreading by discovering a “kill switch” — an Internet address which halted the virus when activated.
In 1966, Gallagher, who immigrated from Ballyhaunis, Ireland in 1962, joined the Marine Corps where he served in H-Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division during Operation Hastings in the Republic of Vietnam.
“Lance Corporal Gallagher is an American hero. His exemplary service in defense of our nation and his strength and sacrifice leaves an example for all servicemen and women to emulate,” said Spencer. “His legacy will live on in the future USS Gallagher and his heroic actions will continue to inspire future Sailors and Marines.”
Gallagher was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on July 18, 1966, when he selflessly threw his body on an incoming grenade, shielding his fellow Marines. He quickly pitched the grenade to a nearby river where it safely exploded out of harm’s way, without injury to himself or others. Gallagher was killed in action one year later in DaLoc near De Nang on March 30, 1967. He is one of only 30 known Irish citizens to have died in the Vietnam conflict.
Arleigh-Burke class destroyers conduct a variety of operations from peacetime presence and crisis response to sea control and power projection. The future USS Gallagher (DDG 127) will be capable of fighting air, surface, and subsurface battles simultaneously, and will contain a combination of offensive and defensive weapon systems designed to support maritime warfare, including integrated air and missile defense and vertical launch capabilities.
The ship will be constructed at Bath Iron Works, a division of General Dynamics in Maine. The ship will be 509 feet long, have a beam length of 59 feet, and be capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots.
Japan conducted a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 that ultimately brought the United States into World War II.
What most people don’t know is that Japan conducted two surprise attacks on the U.S. mainland less than a year later, with the goal of starting wildfires. Now known as the Lookout Air Raids, beginning on Sep. 9, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Oregon, assembled a seaplane, and pilot Nobuo Fujita took off toward the Oregon forests.
Here’s what happened next, according to the Los Angeles Times:
At 6:24 a.m. Mr. Howard Gardner, a forestry service observer on Mt. Emily reported seeing an unidentified seaplane come from the west, circle and return toward the sea. He described the plane as a single-motored biplane with a single float and small floats on the wing tips. The plane appeared to be small and of slow speed. It had no lights, no distinct color and no insignia was visible. It is possible that a plane of this type might have been carried on a submarine.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the best time to start a fire since the area was so damp. While Fujita did successfully drop his bombs and start a small fire, it didn’t turn into the hoped-for wildfires that would take valuable resources away from the war effort.
Three weeks later, Fujita gave it another try with two more bombs, and once again, he was unsuccessful.
In his obituary in 1997, The New York Times wrote:
A quiet, humble man who in his later years was deeply ashamed of his air raids on the United States, Mr. Fujita eventually forged a remarkable bond of friendship with the people of Brookings, the small logging town whose surrounding forests he had bombed. Last week, as he lay dying, the town council of Brookings hailed Mr. Fujita an ”ambassador of good will” and proclaimed him an ”honorary citizen” of the town.
His mission was unsuccessful but he was hailed as a hero back in Japan. And Fujita did earn his place in history as the pilot flying the only enemy aircraft that has ever bombed the U.S. mainland.
For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.
Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.
Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.
The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.
According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.
“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”
The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.
Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.
“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”
A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.
One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.
TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”
Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.
Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.
In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.
Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.
Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.
In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.
One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.
In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.
But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.
The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.
Senator John McCain.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.
The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.
The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.
Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.
Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.
Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.
Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.
John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.
“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.
Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.
(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)
After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.
Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.
The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.
The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.
The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.
TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.
The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.
“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”
The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.
“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”
Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.
“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”
The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.
But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.
TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.
In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”
Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”
McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”
But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.
McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”
McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.
“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”
The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.
The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.
That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.
“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”
Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.
This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.
This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.
He partnered with Ford to unveil the 2018 Ford Mustang, and he decided to take it one step further by giving the car to combat Army veteran Marlene Rodriguez, who earned the Purple Heart for injuries received from an RPG while serving in Mosul.
Her reaction was stunned as she said, “I don’t deserve all this.” Johnson replied with, “You deserve more,” and we all lost our sh**.
His Instagram caption of the reveal was perfect (including the emojis–we’ve kept them intact for you):
This one felt good. Very good. ?? Our Ford partners asked me to unveil the never seen before, brand new 2018 FORD MUSTANG to the world. As their Ambassador, I’m happy to do.
With a twist.
Myself and Ford compiled a big list of US veterans and from that list, I chose Army combat vet Purple Heart recipient, Marlene Rodriguez to surprise and give it away to her.
It was such a cool moment that all of us in the room will never forget.
When Marlene, stopped and just looked at me and asked “Why?”, well that’s when I may or may not have gotten a lil’ emotional with my answer – in a bad ass manly way of course.
Why? Because of the boundless gratitude and respect I have for you, Marlene and all our men and women who’ve served our country. Just a small way of myself and the good people of FORD of saying THANK YOU.
A HUGE thank you to FORD, our SEVEN BUCKS PRODUCTIONS and everyone who was involved in making this awesome surprise come true.
Finally, thank you FORD for making the new 2018 Mustang straight ?, completely customizable for the world to enjoy. Thanks also for making sure I fit in it as well.
Marlene, fits better. ?. Enjoy your ride mama. Enjoy that Dodger game. You deserve it.
It’s okay if you get a little misty-eyed over this one. We did.
The Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s military nutrition division is asking volunteers to take part in a six-week study during which they’ll spend 21 days eating only MREs.
They say the goal is to learn what happens to the human gut on an all MRE diet, even though the veteran and active duty communities have already voiced their opinion through hilarious memes.
They even predicted what would happen on an MRE diet:
But the Army’s study is actually serious business. The engine of the human digestive process is large colonies of bacteria in the gut, and these bacteria populations are affected by what people eat.
Army scientists want to learn how to game that system, crafting new MRE items that will make soldiers more healthy and resilient in the field. An area of particular interest is how to help the naturally occurring bacteria fight off food poisoning.
“We think we can manipulate the bacteria in a way that helps the bacteria fight foreign pathogens — things that could cause food-borne illness, for example,” the head of the study, Dr. J. Philip Karl, told Army Times. “Oftentimes, war fighters are overseas and they eat something off the local economy that can cause [gastrointestinal] distress. Potentially, what we could do by increasing the amount of beneficial gut bacteria is to help prevent some of that.”
Volunteers will have their gut bacteria populations measured on a regular basis as they proceed through the study, allowing researchers to see how the bacteria is affected. Hopefully, the researchers can then tweak the recipes and menus to make them better for troops.
As some vets still idolize the MRE lifestyle, the Army will likely have plenty of volunteers:
But they only want 60 volunteers and only ones who can travel to their facility in Natick, Massachusetts.
To learn more about the study and see how to sign up, see the original Army Times article.
Asked on Thursday by Rep. Tim Ryan of the House Appropriations Committee to explain why the US doesn’t just go to war to stop North Korea from developing the capability to hit the US, Secretary of Defense James Mattis painted a grim scenario.
“I would suggest that we will win,” Mattis said. “It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953.
“It will involve the massive shelling of an ally’s capital, which is one of the most densely packed cities on earth,” Mattis said of Seoul, South Korea, which boasts a metro-area population of 25 million.
North Korea recently launched one of the nation’s largest military exercises, displaying a deadly barrage of artillery. (Photo from North Korean news service)
“It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” Mattis said, but “we would win at great cost.”
Mattis explained that because the threat from North Korea loomed so large and a military confrontation would destroy so much, he, President Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had all made a peaceful solution a top priority.
Mattis said the topic of North Korea dominated Trump’s meeting in April with President Xi Jinping of China, North Korea’s only ally, and that the US intended to make China understand that “North Korea today is a strategic burden, not a strategic asset.”
China argues it has limited influence on Pyongyang, but as one expert explained, Beijing could at any moment cripple North Korea through trade means, forcing it to come to the negotiating table.
Mattis made clear that the US was nearing the end of its rope in dealing with North Korea, saying: “We’re exhausting all possible diplomatic efforts in this regard.”
North Korea recently taunted Trump by saying it was capable of hitting New York with a nuclear missile, but Mattis said a war today would hurt our Asian allies.
“It would be a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan most likely,” Mattis said.
What if the “2nd amendment people” Donald Trump mentioned recently during a campaign rally were actually able to spark an armed rebellion to overthrow the United States?
In a 2012 article for the Small Wars Journal, two academics took a stab at such a scenario and tried to figure out how state and federal authorities would likely respond to a small force taking over an American town.
In their paper, retired Army colonel and University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies professor Kevin Benson and Kansas University history professor Jennifer Weber wargamed a scenario where a Tea Party-motivated militia took over the town of Darlington, South Carolina.
The circumstances may seem far-fetched, but in today’s deeply partisan political environment, it’s at least worth looking into how the feds would respond if an American town tried to go it alone.
Precedents for fighting an insurrection
Benson and Weber cite Abraham Lincoln’s executive actions during the Civil War and Dwight Eisenhower’s 1957 intervention in Little Rock, Arkansas as precedents for the executive use of force in crushing a rebellion. The President would be able to mobilize the military and Department of Homeland Security to recapture a secessionist city and restore the elected government.
From Title 10 US Code the President may use the militia or Armed Forces to:
§ 331 – Suppress an insurrection against a State government at the request of the Legislature or, if not in session, the Governor.
§ 332 – Suppress unlawful obstruction or rebellion against the U.S.
§ 333 – Suppress insurrection or domestic violence if it (1) hinders the execution of the laws to the extent that a part or class of citizens are deprived of Constitutional rights and the State is unable or refuses to protect those rights or (2) obstructs the execution of any Federal law or impedes the course of justice under Federal laws.)
The Insurrection Act governs the roles of the military, local law enforcement, and civilian leadership inside the U.S. as this type of scenario plays out.
How it could go down
An extreme right-wing militia takes over the town of Darlington, South Carolina, placing the mayor under house arrest and disbanding the city council. Local police are disarmed or are sympathetic to the militia’s cause and integrated into the militia.
The rebels choke traffic on interstates 95 and 20, collecting “tolls” to fund their arsenal and operation. Militiamen also stop rail lines and detain anyone who protests their actions.
The insurgents use social media and press conferences to invoke the Declaration of Independence as their rationale, arguing they have the right to “alter or abolish the existing government and replace it with another that, in the words of the Declaration, ‘shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.’ ”
Because of this, they enjoy a “groundswell” of support from similarly-minded locals throughout the state. The mayor contacts the governor and his congressman. The governor doesn’t call out the National Guard for fear they’d side with the militiamen. He monitors the situation using the State Police but through aides, he asks the federal government to step in and restore order, but cannot do so publicly.
The President of the United States gives the militia 15 days to disperse.
Mobilizing a response
The executive branch first calls the state National Guard to federal service. The Joint Staff alerts the U.S. Northern Command who orders U.S. Army North/Fifth U.S. Army to form a joint task force headquarters. Local units go on alert – in this case, the U.S. Army at Forts Bragg and Stewart in North Carolina and Georgia, respectively, and Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The Fifth Army begins its mission analysis and intelligence preparation of the battlefield. This includes locating enemy bases, critical infrastructure, terrain, potential weather, and other important information.
Once the Fifth Army commander has a complete picture of the militia’s behavior patterns, deployments of forces, and activity inside the town, he begins a phased deployment of federal forces.
Civilian control of the military
The Fifth Army is in command of the military forces, but the Department of Justice is still the lead federal agency in charge on the ground. The Attorney General can designate a Senior Civilian Representative of the Attorney General (SCRAG) to coordinate all federal agencies and has the authority to assign missions to federal military forces. The Attorney General may also appoint a Senior Federal Law Enforcement Officer to coordinate federal law enforcement activities.
It’s interesting to note that many of the Constitutional protections afforded to American citizens still apply to those in arms against the government. For instance, federal judges will still have to authorize wiretaps on rebel phones during all phases of the federal response.
Troops on the ground will be aware of local, national, and international media constantly watching them and that every incidence of gunfire will likely be investigated.
Beginning combat operations
Combat units will begin show of force operations against militiamen to remind the rebels they’re now dealing with the actual United States military. Army and Marine Corps units will begin capturing and dismantling the checkpoints and roadblocks held by the militia members.
All federal troops will use the minimum amount of force, violence, and numbers necessary. Only increasing to put pressure on the insurrectionist leaders.
After dismantling checkpoints, soldiers and Marines will recapture critical infrastructure areas in the city, such as water and power stations, as well as TV and radio stations and hospitals.
Meanwhile, state law enforcement and activated National Guard units will care for the fleeing and residents of the city. This is partly for political reasons, allowing the government most susceptible to local voters to be seen largely absent from being in direct, sometimes armed conflict with their own elected officials.
Restoring government control
Federal troops will maintain law and order on the streets of the city as elected officials return to their offices. Drawing on U.S. military history, the government will likely give individual members of the militia a general amnesty while prosecuting the leaders and those who broke the law during the uprising.