A former director of the veterans hospital in the nation’s capital who had been fired for poor leadership has been rehired.
Brian Hawkins was put back on the Department of Veterans Affairs payroll after he appealed the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Hawkins was let go last month after audits found mismanagement at the facility.
The board is requiring the VA to keep Hawkins as an employee until the Office of Special Counsel reviews his claim.
In a statement August 9, the VA says Hawkins had been reassigned to administrative duty at VA headquarters in Washington and would not work directly with patients.
It says VA Secretary David Shulkin will explore other ways to fire Hawkins under a newly enacted accountability law signed by President Donald Trump.
The Empire of Japan was in dire straits by 1945. Between the terribly bloody Pacific island-hopping campaign by the United States and its allies and the firebombing against Japanese cities, Japan was looking for anything it could use to hold back the enemy tide. One plan that was almost brought into fruition was the mass use of bubonic plague against the U.S. mainland, meant to terrify the civilian population and disrupt the war effort off the West coast.
The plan was named Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night, and was the brainchild of Lt. General Shiro Ishii, the commander of Japan’s infamous biological warfare program. Unit 731, as the program was known, had been developing and testing biological weapons since 1932 under the perversely named Army Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory.
Using special float-planes deployed from five of the huge Japanese I-400 class submarines, which had been designed to launch airstrikes against the United States West coast, the plan was to use either biological bombs or Kamikaze attacks to spread bubonic plague across San Diego. The mission was expected to be a one-way suicide mission for all pilots and submariners involved.
To develop these weapons and others, Unit 731 had been using human experimentation on a vast and horrifying scale, testing everything from germs and chemical toxins to flame throwers on live subjects. Most of the experimentation took place on civilians from occupied territories, mainly China, but some Allied prisoners of war were also included in the experiments.
But it was by far the aerial biological bombing in mainland China that took the largest toll. Unit 731 used low-flying aircraft to infect Chinese coastal cities with bubonic plague infected fleas, and also experimented with air-dropped cholera, anthrax, and tularemia. The resulting outbreaks are estimated to have killed as many as 400,000 to 600,000 Chinese, mainly civilians.
These sort of results made the weapons seem ideal for a strike on the U.S. west coast. They hoped that the resulting epidemic would spread and disrupt the huge logistical operations supplying the U.S. armies and fleets bearing down on the Japanese Home Islands.
It was not the first plan by the Japanese to attack the U.S. mainland. Several Japanese submarines had shelled targets targets on the west coast, with minimal results. Operation Fu-Go launched over 9,300 hydrogen balloons loaded with explosives into the Pacific jet stream, where they would be propelled towards North America.
The plan was that the explosives would start forest fires, burn cropland and spread fear among the civilian population. Despite Japanese propaganda that claimed American deaths in the thousands and widespread panic, the program was an almost complete failure. It was clear that something more destructive was needed for such piecemeal attacks, and biological weapons seemed a natural solution.
In the end, after a lot of careful planning, the operation never happened. Only 3 out a projected 18 I-400 submarines could built, and the Japanese high command wanted those held back to defend the Home Islands. The operation was not slated to begin until Sept. 22, 1945, and the August atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender rendered the operation moot. No biological weapons were ever dropped onto to U.S. soil.
After the war, despite the horrific atrocities committed against civilians and Allied POW’s, many of the doctors of Unit 731, including Shiro Ishii, were granted immunity from war crimes prosecution in exchange for their knowledge of biological warfare and human experimentation. Part of Operation Paperclip, which also gave immunity to hundreds of German rocket scientists and other scientific personnel, the US government had decided their expertise was too valuable to lose.
It is unlikely that Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night could have had any real effect on the outcome of the war, given that victory over Japan by the U.S. in 1945 was a foregone conclusion. Japan was essentially blockaded, its remaining forces were hopelessly outgunned, and the U.S. atomic bombings and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria showed that no last ditch plan could save them.
Unit 731 was the first to use modern biological weapons on a large scale, and the terrible toll they took in China showed how ruthlessly effective such munitions could be. If the war had not ended when it did, San Diego and southern California might have faced what China had already suffered, with terrible consequences.
French President Emmanuel Macron criticized the US and urged Europe to forge its own path forward in its collective defense against Russia, according to reports.
In a speech to French ambassadors, he warned that increased nationalism is driving the US to abandon its European allies.
“The partner with whom Europe built the new post-World War order appears to be turning its back on this shared history,” he said.
His remarks stand at odds against recent US military efforts to counter increased Russian activity. Sparked by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ newest National Defense Strategy, military officials are reinforcing their forces in Europe and the Atlantic.
Mattis’ new strategy maintains that “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.”
To comply with this shift, the US Navy in August 2018 relaunched its Second Fleet, a Cold War-era force known for its history of countering Soviet threats in the Atlantic. Its revitalization, coupled with an increased presence of US ships in the Black Sea, are the Navy’s direct responses to what officials are labeling as resurgent Russian activity in the region. At the fleet’s reactivation ceremony, the Navy’s top official, Adm. John Richardson, noted the threat of a resurgency in Russia.
“The nation, and the Navy, are responding,” he said.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) and the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) sail in formation in the Black Sea during exercise Sea Breeze on July 13, 2018. Sea Breeze is a U.S. and Ukraine co-hosted multinational maritime exercise held in the Black Sea and is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen Maritime security within the region.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Stumberg)
The Defense Department recently committed almost million in funds to an air base in Romania, according to Defense News. Although the US does not maintain its own base in the country, the Romanian forces at Camp Turzii have often hosted US forces for exercises and training. According to the report, these funds are “specifically designated to deter Russian aggression.”
Despite these efforts, Macron remains skeptical that the US will defend its European allies. According to a Reuters report, he prodded the EU to discard its reliance on the US, urging financial and strategic autonomy.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US military, despite the rise of powerful rivals, remains an unmatched military force with more than 2 million active-duty and reserve troops ready to defend the homeland and protect American interests abroad.
Insider took a look back at the thousands of photos of the military in action and selected its favorites.
The elite Russian special forces who took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 are now doing the same thing in Aleppo, Syria.
The number of Russian special ops troops in Syria is likely in the “low hundreds,” but they are the eyes and ears on the ground to carry out precision airstrikes, and have been used to directly target rebel leaders, according to experts who spoke with the Wall Street Journal.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, has been the site of a bitter battle for control between pro-government forces and rebels since the war broke out in 2011. Meanwhile, millions of innocent civilians have been caught in the middle, recently cut off from receiving aid such as food, water, and medicine, as Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies besieged the city.
There are also anywhere from 100 to 300 US special operations forces operating in Syria and Iraq, though they are focused on advising Iraqi army forces in Mosul, and targeting ISIS leadership.
According to the Journal, Russian military chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov visited the headquarters of US Special Operations Command in 2012 for a meeting, intent on learning how Russia could build a special operations force similar to the United States’.
Makarov previously signed a framework of understanding with then-Navy Adm. Mike Mullen in 2009 that offered military-to-military exchanges and operational events, orientation at the West Point military academy for Russian cadets, and sharing of ideas among both countries’ combined arms academies.
At the time, US military officials were hopeful for the reestablishment of military-to-military bonds with Russia. Four years later, however, that framework and sharing of information may come back to haunt them.
“From the helmets to the kit,” the Russian special forces “look almost identical” to their US counterparts, a US military official told the Journal.
In early 2014, Russian special forces infiltrated Ukraine’s Crimea region and seized control after the pro-Russian government was ousted from power in Kiev. The heavily-armed men — which some nicknamed “little green men” — wore no identifying insignia and denied that they were Russian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin later acknowledged he had deployed the Russian soldiers, and Russia instituted a national holiday called “Special Forces Day” to commemorate the invasion the following year.
To celebrate the release of Battlefield V, Microsoft and Electronic Arts partnered to give a Florida veteran a limited-edition Xbox One X bundle, delivered via an outrageous skydiving stunt.
Motorsport driver and stunt performer Travis Pastrana of Nitro Circus dove from a height of 13,000 feet to deliver the first Xbox One X Gold Rush Special Edition Battlefield V bundle to retired Navy Corpsman Jeff Bartrom, who lives in Paisley, Florida. Pastrana hit a peak speed of 140 mph during the dive, and the jump took less than 55 seconds.
Travis Pastrana Aerial Drop With Xbox One Gold Rush Battlefield Bundle
The giveaway was meant to thank Bartrom for his service, and it coincides with Microsoft’s #GiveWithXbox initiative. The company pledged to donate worth of Xbox products for every picture shared to social media with the hashtag showing the importance of gaming. Microsoft will donate up to id=”listicle-2621537520″ million to be split between four charities, Child’s Play, Gamers Outreach, SpecialEffect, and Operation Supply Drop. The social-media campaign is running through December 9th.
World War II shooter Battlefield V officially launched on Nov. 20, 2018, and is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. The Xbox One X version of Battlefield V also features enhanced visuals. EA Access members can play a free 10-hour trial of the game on their platform of choice as well.
Every day, countless men and women who served in the armed forces return home from war with wounds that are invisible — most never reach out to seek help.
As new mental health treatments are developed, many don’t want to be placed on a cocktail of medication they can’t pronounce and put them in a fog. That’s where an organization called Mutual Rescue can help.
David Whitman and Carol Novello created a national animal-welfare initiative that aims to connect loving and homeless pets with people who are in need of specialized care.
“Even before he was my cat, before he even knew me that well, Scout saved my life,” said Josh Marino, an Iraq war vet. “He put me on a different path. He gave me the confidence to try to come back from all the adversity that I was feeling.”
Check out Mutual Rescue‘s video for Josh Scout’s uplifting story of how animals can rescue their owners.
A new documentary, “National Bird,” exposes the secret drone war being carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere from the ground level of the strike and from the perspective of three military operators who used to pull the trigger.
“When you watch someone in those dying moments, what their reaction is, how they’re reacting and what they’re doing,” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, says in the film. “It’s so primitive. It’s really raw, stripped down, death.”
Though unmanned systems have been used for many years to carry out surveillance, it wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks — on February 4, 2002 — that a drone was armed and used for targeted killing. That 2002 strike apparently killed three civilians mistaken for Osama bin Laden and his confidantes, a theme that went on to play out again and again.
Armed drones have operated since in Afghanistan and many other countries in which the U.S. is not at war, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. They have been used to strike militants and terror leaders over the years — a program accelerated under the Obama administration — but it has come at a deadly cost, with thousands of innocent civilians killed, to include hundreds of children.
“I can say the drone program is wrong because I don’t know how many people I’ve killed,” Linebaugh says.
Linebaugh and two others, introduced only by their first names Daniel and Lisa, tell equally compelling stories from their time in the military’s drone program. The film gives them a chance to shine a light on what is a highly secretive program, which officials often describe as offering near-surgical precision against terrorists that may someday do harm to U.S. interests.
Instead, the three offer pointed critiques to that narrative, sharing poignant details of deaths they witnessed through their sophisticated cameras and sensors. The most disturbing thing about being involved with the drone program, Daniel said, was the lack of clarity about whom he killed and whether they were civilians.
“There’s no way of knowing,” he says.
Though the testimony of the three operators is compelling, the documentary’s most important moments come from a visit to Afghanistan, where the documentary showcases a family that was wrongly targeted by a strike. It was on February 21, 2010, when three vehicles carrying more than two-dozen civilians were hit by an Air Force drone crew.
“That’s when we heard the sound of a plane but we couldn’t see it,” one victim says.
Filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck mixes witness statements with a reenactment of overhead imagery and voices reading from the transcript prior to the strike. A later investigation found that the operators of the Predator drone offered “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting of what they saw.
During the incident, the drone operators reported seeing “at least five dudes so far.” Eventually, they reported 21 “military-age males,” no females, and two possible children, which they said were approximately 12 years old.
“Twelve, 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous,” one drone operator says. The operators never got positive identification of the people below having weapons.
That’s because the group consisted only of innocent men, women, and children, according to the documentary. Twenty-three Afghan civilians were killed, including two children aged seven and four.
“We thought they would stop when they saw women, but they just kept bombing us,” the mother of the children says.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of U.S. forces in the country, apologized for the strike. Four officers involved were disciplined.
The documentary cuts through the defense of drones as a “surgical” weapon that only kills the bad guys. As many reports have made clear, the US often doesn’t know exactly who it is killing in a drone strike, instead hazarding an “imperfect guess,” according to The New York Times, which is sometimes based merely on a location or suspicious behavior.
That imperfect guess has often resulted in the death of innocent locals — or, as was the case in 2015, the death of two men, an American, and an Italian, who were being held hostage by militants.
As Daniel points out in the documentary, the presence of drones on the battlefield has only emboldened commanders, who no longer have to risk military personnel in raids and can fire a missile instead. That viewpoint only seems to be growing, as the technology gets better and drones continue to proliferate around the world.
The drone may continue to be the “national bird” of the U.S. military for a long time, but perhaps the documentary can start a conversation around their use and whether they create more terrorists, as has been argued, than they are able to take out.
“Not everybody is a freakin’ terrorist. We need to just get out of that mindset,” says Lisa, a former Air Force technical sergeant, in the documentary. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of their door and it was a sunny day, and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something was going to fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”
Hunkered down in sniper positions on the top floor of an abandoned building in the Syrian city of Raqqa, two Americans and a British volunteer face off against Islamic State snipers on the other side of the front line. The trio, including two who were battle-hardened by experience in the French Foreign Legion and the war in Iraq, have made the war against IS in Syria their own.
They are among several US and British volunteers in the decisive battle against the Islamic State group for Raqqa, the city in northeastern Syria that the militants declared the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The men joined US-allied Syrian militias for different reasons — some motivated by testimonies of survivors of the unimaginable brutality that IS flaunted in areas under its control.
Others joined what they see as a noble quest for justice and a final battle with the “heart of darkness,” in a belief that violence can only be met with violence.
Taylor Hudson, a 33-year old from Pasadena, compares the fight for Raqqa to the 1945 Battle of Berlin in World War II that was critical to ending the rule of Adolf Hitler.
“This is the Berlin of our times,” said Hudson, who doubles as a platoon medic and a sniper in the battle against the militants. For him, IS extremists “represent everything that is wrong with humanity.”
Syria’s war, now in its seventh year, has attracted foreign fighters to all sides of the complicated conflict.
Islamic extremists from Europe, Asia, and North Africa have boosted the ranks of the Islamic State group, as well as rival radical al-Qaeda-linked groups. Shiite Iranian and Lebanese militias have sided with the Syrian government, deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict that has killed over 400,000 people and displaced over 11 million, half of Syria’s pre-war population.
On the anti-IS side — though far less in numbers than the thousands of foreigners who swelled the IS ranks — most Western foreign volunteers have been drawn to the US-allied Kurdish militia known as The People’s Protection Units, or by their Kurdish initials as the YPG. The US military has developed a close relationship with the YPG and its extension, the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the war against IS.
Some Western volunteers have died in battle — earlier in July the YPG announced that 28-year-old Robert Grodt, of Santa Cruz, California, and 29-year-old Nicholas Alan Warden, of Buffalo, died in the battle for Raqqa.
Since launching the push on Raqqa on June 6, the US-backed forces have conquered a third of the city.
Hudson, who has been fighting in Syria for the past 13 months, said he was moved to tears by stories in the media of Iraqi Yazidi women who were enslaved by IS militants and looked for a way to help. A pharmacy student who learned combat medicine in the field, he said he had treated some 600 wounded ahead of the march onto Raqqa.
The presence of Western anti-IS volunteers in Syria has created something of a conundrum for their governments, which have often questioned them on terrorism charges.
“I am not a terrorist,” said Macer Gifford, a 30-year former City broker in London, who came to Syria three years ago to volunteer first with the Kurdish militia. Now he is fighting with an Assyrian militia, also part of the US-backed forces battling IS militants.
“I am here defending the people of Syria against terrorists,” he added.
Gifford has been questioned by both his British government and by the US government. At home, he has written and lectured about the complex situation in Syria, offering a first-hand experience of IS’ evolving tactics.
He believes the militants can only be defeated by sheer force.
“The Islamic State (group) is actually an exceptional opponent,” Gifford said. “We can’t negotiate them away, we can’t wish them away. The only way we can defeat them is with force of arms.”
For Kevin Howard, a 28-year old former US military contractor from California who fought in Iraq in 2006, the war against the Islamic State group is more personal.
A skilled sniper who prides himself in having killed 12 IS militants so far, Howard said he is doing it for the victims of the Bataclan Theatre in France, where the sister of one of his best friends survived. The Nov. 13, 2015 attacks claimed by IS killed 130 people at Paris cafes, the national stadium, and the Bataclan, where 90 died.
“This is a continuation of that fight, I think if you leave something unfinished, it will remain unfinished for a lifetime,” he said, showing off his 1972 sniper rifle.
On his forehead and neck, he has tattooed the “Rien N’empêche” — or “Nothing Prevents”— words from the song of the French Foreign Legion in which he served, and “life is pain.”
“For me this is a chance to absolutely go to the heart of darkness and grab it and get rid of it,” he added.
From his sniper position on Raqqa’s front line, he peeked again through the rifle hole. For Howard, the orders to march deeper into the IS-held city can’t come soon enough.
The United States military has a long history of adopting so-called wildcat calibers from the civilian world. Hell, the 5.56mm round that fills every M249 belt and M16 magazine has its origins as an experimental varmint round for civilian hunters — the .222 Remington Magnum.
But this was back when the U.S. military’s budget was not only enormous, but had less congressional oversight.
In the middle of the Cold War and a heated arms race with the Soviet Union, America was willing to adopt new tech without concern for the pricy or problematic logistics of adopting a new round for all branches.
Today, only small special operations groups like hand-selected units from SOCOM can afford to rearm with bleeding edge tech or equipment
In particular, sniper elements of various units tend to be the first to adopt new cartridges for their highly specialized work.
For a long time, this meant choosing between 7.62×51, .50 BMG or .300 Winchester Magnum. Eventually, someone decided they wanted the incredible effective range of the .50BMG round without the awful ballistic coefficient that makes anti-personal use at extreme ranges difficult.
After all, .50 BMG began life as a heavy machine gun round suited for anti-vehicle use, then aircraft use before being adopted to anti-material use in big-bore sniper rifles.
Developed in the early 1980s, the resulting .338 Lapua Magnum was an immediate hit in the vast expanses of Middle East like the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan. Yet, it didn’t perform nearly as well in an anti-material role as the .50BMG, and some experts argued it didn’t retain sufficient energy for reliable soft target neutralization past 1,800 yards — though data on terminal ballistics data at this distance are not normally available to the public.
But this seems like a moot point, the best snipers in any military consider a shot at that distance both incredibly difficult and exceptionally rare. Which makes the recent adoption of a new round for the Advanced Sniper Rifle by U.S. Special Operations Command so interesting.
Dubbed, the .300 Norma Magnum, this new round boasts an improved ballistic coefficient over the .338 Lapua. However, the .300 Norma actually uses a .308-caliber round which is smaller than the one employed in the .338 cartridge.
If this seems strange given past complaints about limited effectiveness against semi-hardened targets, you’re on the right path. Indeed, instead of trying to shoehorn a cartridge designed for shooting soft targets into an anti-material role, the new .300 Norma Magnum fully embraces the .308-caliber bullet’s anti-personnel qualities and top-notch ballistic coefficient.
Some food for thought: At that range, the intended target wouldn’t hear the shot for a full three seconds after it left the barrel.
The new cartridge’s potential for accuracy brings distant soft targets in delicate locations – i.e. those saturated with non-combatants – within the grasp of the US military. While the caliber of the .300 Norma’s projectile may lead some to believe this round is a downgrade from the .338 Lapua, it’s more akin to a different tool for different situations.
This round may finally put a stop to insurgents using towers of religious buildings or hospitals to call in mortar strikes or coordinate ambushes.
But this is all speculation; with the round being as new as it is, and special operators just now adopting it, the public won’t likely hear anything about its performance for years.
Either way, one thing is certain: the long reach of America’s special forces, just got even longer.
The Veterans Affairs Department’s watchdog said Oct. 3 it is reviewing Secretary David Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe with his wife that mixed business meetings with sightseeing.
Shulkin disclosed last week he traveled to Denmark and England to discuss veterans’ health issues. Travel records released by VA show four days of the trip were spent on personal activities, including attending a Wimbledon tennis match and a cruise on the Thames River. The VA said Shulkin traveled on a commercial airline, and that his wife’s airfare and meals were paid for by the government as part of “temporary duty” expenses.
A spokesman for VA inspector general Michael Missal described the review as “preliminary.”
Shulkin is one of several Cabinet members who have faced questions about travel after Tom Price resigned as health chief.
Curt Cashour, a VA spokesman, said the travel activities had been approved as part of an ethics review.
“The secretary welcomes the IG looking into his travel, and a good place to start would be VA’s website where VA posted his full foreign travel itineraries, along with any travel on government or private aircraft,” Cashour said.
The site lists Shulkin’s travel itineraries but does not detail costs to the government.
Putin turned toward offensive nuclear-capable systems near the end of his annual, wide-ranging state of the nation address in Moscow, in which he also said Russia needed to spend heavily on improving conditions for average Russians.
Putin described at least five new weapons systems, emphasizing how each could defeat US missile defenses and characterizing nearly all of them as nuclear-capable.
But in typical fashion, Putin’s descriptions contained wild, scientifically unimaginable claims about how great the weapons were.
A computer-generated animation accompanied each weapon announcement, perhaps illustrating that they exist mainly in a conceptual state.
First, Putin mentioned a new intercontinental ballistic, which he claimed had unlimited range and could get past all US missile defenses.
An animation showed the missile taking two trajectories toward the West. Without showing much real video of the product, Putin said, “our defense companies have launched mass production of this new system.”
Here is your Russian NPR, delivered by Putin https://t.co/LQJgyzm85a. Very interesting, although I would note that there is a lot of animation there
Next, Putin announced what he called a “global cruise missile,” which he claimed had unlimited range and was nuclear-propelled.
An animation showed the missile fired from Russia’s north, flying north of Europe into the Atlantic, weaving through US air-defense zones, and then inexplicably traveling south the entire length of the Atlantic Ocean before wrapping around Argentina and ending up near Chile.
The doomsday device
Then, Putin seemed to confirm a long-feared “doomsday” weapon: an unmanned, undersea vehicle capable of carrying a nuclear weapon across oceans at high speeds.
Previous reports of the weapon have stated it may be a dirty bomb or a nuclear weapon with additional metal in its core to keep radiation in the atmosphere for years.
The undersea weapon’s concept has been mocked as an over-the-top system with little purpose other than destroying massive swaths of human life.
Russia may have intentionally leaked images of it in 2015, because it’s suspected that a major purpose of this weapon would be to deter attacks on Russia. The animation of the system showed it striking both US Navy formations and a coastal city.
Putin said the undersea weapon was successfully tested in December 2016, and the US intelligence community seems to have been aware of it, as such a weapon was mentioned in President Donald Trump’s recent review of US nuclear policy.
Other crazy weapons
Putin then discussed a hypersonic plane-launched, nuclear-capable missile and showed it hitting US Navy ships.
The US, Russia, China, and others are working on hypersonic weapons designed to defeat today’s defenses by flying at many times the speed of sound.
Finally, Putin talked up Russian laser weapons, showing a brief video of an electronic system with lenses pivoting on the back of a truck. He provided little detail about the system.
For many of the systems, Putin asked Russian citizens to send in suggestions for their names. He used the opportunity to stoke Russian pride by saying the systems were not reworkings of Soviet designs but had been developed in the past few years.
“They kept ignoring us,” Putin said of the West, to a standing ovation. “Nobody wanted to listen to us, so listen to us now.”
On May 16, 2018, The House passed by a vote of 372-70 major veterans legislation to extend and reform the Veterans Choice Program to allow more private care options.
The “VA Mission Act,” would also lift the restrictions on family caregiver benefits, which are now limited to post-9/11 veterans, and extend them to the caregivers of veterans of all eras.
The bill will now go to the Senate, where Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking member of the Committee, have already expressed their support.
President Donald Trump has said he will sign the bill quickly when it reaches his desk.
In a statement, the White House said the bill would “transform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) into a modern, high-performing, and integrated healthcare system that will ensure our veterans receive the best healthcare possible from the VA, whether delivered in the VA’s own facilities or in the community.”
Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), which previously had expressed concerns that a rapid expansion of community care options could lead to the “privatization” of VA health care, had lined up to back the new bill.
Denise Rohan, national commander of the two-million member American Legion, said in a statement that “I applaud the passage of the VA Mission Act.” She said the bill “will streamline and fund the Department of Veterans Affairs’ many community care programs” and also “expand caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans and their families.”
Keith Harman, national commander of the 1.7 million member Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the bill “will help improve services throughout the VA health system while utilizing private sector resources when needed, striking the right balance to make sure we provide veterans with the best care possible.”
A similar bill offered in 2017, by Isakson was left out of the omnibus $1.3 trillion spending package signed by Trump in February 2018, for all government agencies, forcing the House and Senate to begin anew on reforming choice.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee who was instrumental in gaining bipartisan support for the new legislation, said that “Over the last several months, we’ve taken great, bipartisan steps to reform the department, and this legislation is yet another strong step in the right direction.”
Roe said the provisions in the bill would keep “our promise to give veterans more choice in their health care while building on our strong investment in VA’s internal capacity.”
The bill would authorize $5.2 billion to extend the current Veterans Choice Program, whose funding was set to expire on May 31, 2018, for one year while the VA enacts reforms to expand private care options.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, voted against the bill.
“There is little debate that the VA Mission Act is better than the current Veterans Choice Program,” Walz said, but he questioned whether there would be sufficient funding in the long run to sustain it.
“Voting against this bill is not something I take lightly,” he said. “While I have serious concerns with regard to long term sustainability and implementation, the bill does take steps to consolidate VA’s various care in the community programs while providing much needed stop gap funding for the ailing Veterans Choice Program.”
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin in 2017, said that about one-third of VA medical appointments were being handled in the private sector, but the Trump administration had argued for more private care options for veterans who face long waits for appointments or have to travel long distances to VA facilities.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.