Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets' care - We Are The Mighty
Articles

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on June 23 that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.


“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you.”

Trump repeatedly promised during the election campaign to dismiss VA workers “who let our veterans down,” and he cast the bill signing as fulfillment of that promise.

“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by George Skidmore)

The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the US government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.

Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he’d have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired” if the reforms were not implemented.

The legislation, which many veterans’ groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
David Shulkin (right) – DoD Photo by Megan Garcia

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the move, saying, “In a nasty, partisan environment like we’ve never seen, veterans’ issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans.”

The bill was a rare Trump initiative that received Democratic support. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill “will protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation.”

The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the Senate-passed measure was seen as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House version – 180 days versus 45 days. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
USMC Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling

The bill also turns another of Trump’s campaign pledges into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the bill signing “a significant step to reform the VA with a renewed purpose and ability to serve our veterans.”

“The ultimate goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture within the VA so that our veterans receive the best care possible,” McCarthy said.

The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to make restaurants a healthy part of your meal plan

Whether it’s dinner from your neighborhood carry out or going to lunch with friends, eating out is a part of everyone’s life. Having diabetes can make this tough, but with planning and thoughtful choices, you can enjoy a variety of healthy foods away from home. Use these tips to enjoy eating out while still sticking to your routine of eating healthy for diabetes.


Plan ahead

While restaurants are in the business of selling food, and not necessarily helping you stick to your diet, many offer healthy food choices and alternatives. You can plan what you want to order ahead of time by looking at menus online. It’s also easier to make healthy food choices if you’re not starving, so before a party or dinner, enjoy a diabetic-friendly snack. If you are going to a friend’s house, ask if you can bring food to share. That way you’ll know there are healthy options to eat.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Know the amount of carbs you should have in each meal.

If you have diabetes, it’s important to know the number of carbohydrates you should have in each meal. Carbs can raise blood sugar levels more than other nutrients, so it’s best to monitor them. Try limiting cheese, bacon bits, croutons, and other add-ons that can increase a meal’s calories, fat, and carbohydrates.

Mind your portions

Many restaurants pack their plates with portions that are often twice the recommended serving size. You can avoid the temptation to overeat by:

  • Choosing a half-size or lunch portion.
  • Sharing meals with a dining partner.
  • Requesting a take-home container to put half your food in before you start to eat your meal.
  • Making a meal out of a salad or soup and an appetizer.
Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Fresh fruit and vegetables promote healthy eating habits.

When at parties, choose the smallest plate available or a napkin to keep from overeating. A good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with vegetables or salad. Then split the other half of your plate between protein and non-starchy carbohydrates. If you have a sweet tooth, fruit is a good choice for dessert. Since you likely don’t have a measuring cup or food scale handy, you can estimate serving sizes based on your hands:

  • 2 to 3 ounces is about the size of your palm
  • ½ cup is about the size of your cupped hand
  • 1 cup is about the size of your full fist

Healthier alternatives

As you decide what foods to add to your meal, consider how they are prepared. Rather than ordering something breaded or fried, ask that your food be:

  • Broiled
  • Roasted
  • Grilled
  • Steamed
Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Don’t settle for the side dish that comes with your meal. Instead of fries, choose a side salad with fat-free or low-fat salad dressing, or extra vegetables. You can also control how much fat you eat by requesting butter, sour cream, gravy and sauces on the side. If you choose a sandwich, swap house dressings or creamy sauces for ketchup, mustard, horseradish or fresh tomato slices. Drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks is an easy way to rack up calories, so instead opt for water or unsweetened ice tea. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one serving and choose options with fewer calories and carbs, such as:

  • Light beer
  • Dry wines
  • Mixed drinks made with sugar-free mixers, such as diet soda, diet tonic, club soda or seltzer

Add it to your food journal

Keeping a food journal is a great way to stay aware of what you eat each day. Diabetic veterans can track both their meals and vitals with My HealtheVet’s Track Health feature. Before your meal, take and enter your blood sugar level. Once you are done eating, record the foods you chose. This will help you – and your doctor – understand your eating habits and create a diabetes meal plan that meets your lifestyle and health needs.

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

Articles

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

One of the most ever-present devices in modern times is the navigation system in everything from cell phones and wrist watches to in-dash car displays. All of them are made possible with just a few constellations of satellites, most of them launched by the U.S.


But the systems use the satellite signals for free despite a cost in the billions to create and launch the satellites, and $2 million is spent daily to maintain the U.S. system. So why are civilians across the world allowed to use them for free?

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
An Su-15 Flagon fighter like the one that downed Korean Air 007. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense).

The big turning point was in 1983 when a Korean Air passenger jet flying near the Soviet border accidentally crossed into Russian territory in the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Russians were worried that the plane was a U.S. bomber or spy plane, and made the catastrophic decision to attack the jet, downing it and killing all 269 passengers and crew members on board.

American officials later admitted privately that the error was an easy one to make and that the passenger jet was — probably accidentally — traveling on almost the exact same route that a U.S. spy plane was flying at the same time.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
(Reagan Library photo)

President Ronald Reagan publicly condemned the attacks and turned to his advisors to find a way to prevent other mix-ups in the future. He opened the GPS signals to public use with an executive order — but added scrambling to reduce accuracy.

This made the signals less valuable to rival militaries.

Civilian companies sprang up around GPS and worked to create devices that were perfectly accurate despite the scrambling. After almost a decade of the military increasing scrambling to foil technological workarounds, President Bill Clinton ordered that the scrambling come to an end.

Instead, the U.S. jams GPS signals locally when they’re in combat with a force that uses them.

This jamming works by interrupting the signals, allowing the U.S. to scramble signals from its own satellites as well as those launched in more recent years by Russia, China, India, and Japan.

Articles

The weird arms race between Napoleon and England

Napoleon_England


If you were a higher-up in the British Empire in the late 1790s, you were probably a little freaked out, and understandably so. You’d just said goodbye to the American colonies and watched the French populace rise up in bloody revolution against their monarchic government—and now French general Napoleon Bonaparte was seizing territory all over Europe and even beyond. You wouldn’t be crazy to think that the general had his eye on the British Isles next. But exactly how you expected the French armies to land on British shores… let’s just say the Brits let their imaginations run away with them a little bit.

For your viewing pleasure, we’ve collected a series of slightly bonkers popular engravings of imaginary invasion methods dating between 1798 and 1805, when the Napoleon’s troops seemed to be looming on the horizon.

Napoleon’s moving castle

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

This slightly histrionic plan from 1798 shows perhaps the most visually striking paranoid fantasy to come out of the period. In it, a massive windmill-propelled barge carries not only 60,000 men but also an entire castle across the English Channel.

This… thing

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Similarly relying on windmills for power, this illustration of an invasion raft described by a French prisoner of war (who we assume got a kick out of the credulous Brits) somehow makes even less sense than the barge above. It’s basically a fortress on a floating island. Not the most hydrodynamic contraption—and what happens if the water is choppy?

This… thing, part 2

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Also from 1798 is this intricate engraving of the imaginary “Raft St. Malo,” which was likely based on the same false information as the last raft. It allegedly “was 600 feet long by 300 broad, mounts 500 pieces of cannon, 36 and 48-pounders, and is to convey 15,000 troops for the invasion of England. In the midst is a bomb-proof, metal-sheathed citadel.”

Oh look, a real boat

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Dating to 1803, when hostilities broke out again after a hiatus, this print showing “A Correct VIEW of the FRENCH FLAT-BOTTOM BOATS intended to convey their TROOPS for the INVASION of ENGLAND” is a little more realistic. As the National Maritime Museum explains,

Unlike the earlier prints… with their monstrous and bizarre ‘rafts’ for transporting huge numbers of troops, this shows much more feasible vessels and appears to be based on much better founded information.

“My ass in a band box”

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Not all Brits bought into the technological hype, however. The cartoon above shows a small-statured Napoleon on a donkey, sailing over to the British Isles in a decidedly non-threatening box labeled “Invasion.”

Balloons, ships, and a tunnel

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Perhaps the craziest idea came from Napoleon himself, who imagined a three-pronged approach to invading Britain using hot air balloons, ships, and foot soldiers via a tunnel dug under the English Channel, as illustrated in this 1803 French engraving.

So what actually happened? None of the above. Urged on by fears of French innovation, the British government invested heavily in defense measures, including a number of forts and a massive naval blockade of the Channel. Napoleon’s attempt to piece together a big enough flotilla to break through the blockade ended up being a major flop.

Articles

Robot soldiers are coming! Robot soldiers are coming!

Boston Dynamics has come out with a new version of its Atlas robot that is more mobile, more agile, lighter, quieter, and doesn’t require a power tether.


The new robot was introduced in a YouTube video this morning where it was shown escaping a building and marching through the snow:

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
GIF: YouTube/Boston Dynamics

Then it stacked boxes like some sort of Robo-POG:

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
GIF: YouTube/Boston Dynamics

Like other POGs, the Atlas was bullied pretty harshly on the job:

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
GIF: YouTube/Boston Dynamics

The new generation Atlas weighs only 180 pounds, approximately half the weight of its 330-pound predecessor. It is powered by onboard batteries and can navigate obstacles that tripped up earlier Atlas robots at the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

Boston Dynamics has withdrawn from the DARPA challenge to focus on building commercially-viable robots, meaning they might try to sell the robot to the military or other buyers within the next few years.

Still, the Atlas is far from reaching the battlefield. The new improvements could get it ready to serve behind the lines, but it’s about as noisy as the BigDog robot which was shelved by the Marine Corps for being too loud. And there are no signs that it’s ready to carry its own weapon.

For now, developers will probably continue to target disaster response and similar missions.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa

The deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger last month have raised questions about America’s role in the fight against violent extremism in a sparsely populated region of Africa.


Before the October attack, in which at least four Nigerien soldiers were also killed, some members of Congress said they were aware of U.S. operations in Niger, but others — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) — said they did not know U.S. troops were on the ground in Niger.

U.S. involvement includes more than 800 troops, according to Pentagon officials. There are also two drone bases in the country.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with reporters about recent military operations in Niger Oct. 23, 2017, at the Pentagon. (DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

Niger and Burkina Faso want the U.S. to do more to support local governments in their fight against extremism, mainly by funding a new regional task force. The first-year operating budget for the five-nation force has been projected at $500 million. The United States is considering making a contribution of $60 million.

A decade of involvement

The heightened U.S. presence in the Sahel dates back to at least 2007, when the Pentagon established the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM. The command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, works with regional partners in Africa to strengthen security and stability. Since at least 2013, U.S. forces have conducted missions to train, advise, and assist in Niger, collaborating with local authorities to clamp down on armed extremists.

Niger has been a particularly important strategic partner in the region. During the Obama administration, the U.S. built drone bases in the capital, Niamey, and in the northern city of Agadez.

“Because the government of Niger has been a strong ally to the counterterrorism efforts, it’s been natural for the United States to station its counterterrorism forces in that country,” said Lisa Mueller, an assistant professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

But the Green Berets’ deaths have brought new scrutiny to U.S. partnerships in the Sahel, and it is unclear how — or if — the Trump administration might shift its policy in the region.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes as a Nigerien soldier bounds forward while practicing buddy team movement drills during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. (Army photo by Spc. Zayid Ballesteros.)

Some activists and U.S. lawmakers are concerned that some regional partners have authoritarian governments. Even Niger, said Brandon Kendhammer, an associate professor and director of the International Development Studies Program at Ohio University, is “problematically democratic.”

Still, Kendhammer characterized U.S. involvement as a net positive. “It’s pretty clear that these investments do make a real difference in the ability of the region to provide its own security,” he said.

Seeking input has been key to that success, according to Kendhammer. Despite perceptions among some observers that AFRICOM works unilaterally, the command has a track record of seeking local expertise and wide-ranging perspectives, Kendhammer said.

Green Beret deaths

Pentagon officials expect to complete their investigation into the Niger attack in January.

Based on what is now known, the U.S. soldiers killed last month were involved in exactly the kind of work that troops stationed in the Sahel undertake, Kendhammer said.

Related: This is the general demanding answers for the families of the soldiers who died in Niger

A big part of that role involves training local forces via workshops and fieldwork. Training can cover everything from basic operations to advanced tactics, including rapid response to terrorist attacks. To maximize their impact, the U.S. follows a “train the trainer” model, Kendhammer said, working with elite local forces who, in turn, share knowledge and skills.

No one has claimed responsibility for the October attack, but the Pentagon suspects possible involvement by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, one of several extremist organizations operating in the Sahel.

That presence typically involves local militants who pledge allegiance to an international organization like IS or al-Qaida. Such an affiliation might signal tenuous ties — occasional mention in an IS publication, for example — or ongoing communication with the broader network.

Either way, affiliating with an established terrorist organization can be more pragmatic than ideological. According to Kendhammer, the particular group alleged to be behind the Niger attack was previously affiliated with al-Qaeda and switched in 2015 or 2016 to find a better strategic partner.

The tactics employed by local militants hinge on undermining U.S. efforts. As VOA previously reported, it is likely that villagers in Tongo Tongo, where last month’s attack occurred, helped lure U.S. and Nigerien forces into a trap. The villagers’ willingness to assist militant groups reflects concerted efforts within those factions to build trust with local populations while fomenting contempt for America.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Tongo Tongo in Niger. (image Google Maps)

Daily Beast contributor Philip Obaji Jr. reported this month that residents of Tongo Tongo blamed the U.S. for a 2016 grenade attack that killed six children. No evidence has linked the U.S. to the incident, but local militant groups have pushed the narrative of an American-led slaughter to “win the hearts and minds of the local population,” Obaji wrote.

Also Read: Pentagon identifies 3 Bragg soldiers killed in Niger ambush — 4th found dead

Financial constraints

Governments in the Sahel say they need far more funding to carry out critical missions tied to two task forces: the newly-formed G5 counter-terrorism force and the Multinational Joint Task Force, a longstanding effort based in Chad that has been revitalized to fight Boko Haram.

Burkina Faso’s minister of foreign affairs, Alpha Barry, told VOA’s French to Africa service this month that the G5 force needs more help from the U.S., whose recent pledge will assist regional militaries but not the G5, according to Barry.

Despite its bases and troop deployments, U.S. investment in the Sahel, particularly in Mali and Niger, has so far been eclipsed, both financially and militarily, by the EU and France, Mueller said.

Local solutions

Concerns about lack of funding and efforts to demonize the U.S. may have a common solution: more local initiatives and buy-in. But bringing those solutions to fruition is easier said than done.

“In U.S. government discourse about West Africa, [we tend] to talk about the need for everything to be regionally oriented and for everything to be an African solution to an African problem. And those are good ideas in principle, but they don’t always translate directly into obvious policy,” Kendhammer said. “Not every regional initiative is going to be the right regional initiative. Not every local solution is going to be the local solution that’s actually going to solve the problem because countries have different interests.”

Read More: This timeline shows how the Niger operation went down

In the end, countries’ interests will dictate how well a solution works. In the Sahel, that’s complicated by a diverse host of local players, each with its own economic and security concerns.

For Niger, fighting extremism is less about combating a homegrown threat and more about securing its borders. “It might be tempting to look at Niger – a country that is approximately 99 percent Muslim in its population – and assume that Nigeriens are radicalizing. And as far as I can tell, that’s just not the case,” Mueller said.

Instead, threats have spilled into the country from all sides, putting Niger in the crosshairs.

Articles

James Bond came from the author’s real-world experiences in WWII

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, served with British Naval Intelligence during World War II, and his service influenced the character and his stories.


Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Fleming was recruited into the Royal Navy in 1939 by Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Head of Naval Intelligence. Fleming entered as a lieutenant and quickly promoted to lieutenant commander. Although initially tasked as Admiral Godfrey’s assistant, Commander Fleming had greater ambitions. He is widely believed to be the author of the “Trout Memo” circulated by Godfrey that compared intelligence gathering to a fisherman casting for trout. In the memo, he independently came up the plan to use a corpse with false documents to deceive the Germans, originally conceived by another agent and later used in Operation Mincemeat.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Fleming was obsessed with collecting intelligence and came up with numerous ways to do so, some seemingly right out of spy novels. One such mission, Operation Ruthless, called for acquiring a German bomber, crashing it into the English Channel, and then having the crew attack and subdue the German ship that would come to rescue them. Mercifully, it was called off. Fleming was also the mastermind of an intelligence gathering unit known as (No. 30 Commando or 30 Assault Unit, 30 AU). Instead of traditional combat skills, members of 30 AU were trained in safe-cracking, lock-picking, and other spycraft and moved with advancing units to gain intelligence before it could be lost or destroyed.

Fleming was in charge of Operation Goldeneye and involved with the T-Force. These would also influence his work. Operation Goldeneye was a scheme to monitor Spain in the event of an alliance with Germany and to conduct sabotage operations should such an agreement take place. Fleming would later name his Jamaican home where he wrote the James Bond novels “Goldeneye.” It would also be the title of seventeenth James Bond movie. As for the T-Force, or Target Force, Fleming sat on the committee that selected targets, specifically German scientific and technological advancements before retreating troops destroyed them. The seizure by the T-Force of a German research center at Kiel which housed advanced rocket motors and jet engines was featured prominently in the James Bond novel “Moonraker.”

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
The movie was much less grounded in reality.

In the actual creation of the character James Bond, Fleming drew inspiration from himself and those around him. Fleming said the character of James Bond was an amalgamation of all the secret agent and commando types he met during the war. In particular, Bond was modeled after Fleming’s brother Peter, who conducted work behind enemy lines, Patrick Dalzel-Job, who served in the 30 Assault Unit Fleming created, and Bill “Biffy” Dunderdale, who was the Paris station chief for MI6 and was known for his fancy suits and affinity for expensive cars. Fleming used his habits for many of Bond’s. He was known to be a heavy drinker and smoker. Bond purchased the same specialty cigarettes Fleming smoked and even added three gold rings to the filter to denote his rank as a Commander in the Royal Navy, something Fleming also did.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Bond’s code number, 007, comes from a means of classifying highly secretive documents starting with the number 00. The number 007 comes from the British decryption of the Zimmerman Note, labeled 0075, that brought America into World War I. Bond received his name from a rather innocuous source, however, an ornithologist. Bond’s looks are not Fleming’s but rather were inspired by the actor/singer Hoagy Carmichael, with only a dash of Fleming’s for good measure.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Hoagy Carmichael

Fleming did draw on those around him for other characters in the James Bond novels. Villains had a tendency to share a name with people Fleming disliked while other characters got their names from his friendly acquaintances. The character of M, James Bond’s boss, was based on Fleming’s boss Rear Admiral Godfrey. The inspiration for the single-letter moniker came from Maxwell Knight, the head of MI5, who was known to sign his memos with only his first initial, M. Also, the fictional antagonistic organization SMERSH, takes its name from a real Russian organization called SMERSH that was active from 1943-1946. In the fictional version, SMERSH was an acronym of Russian words meaning “Special Methods of Spy Detection” and was modeled after the KGB; the real SMERSH was a portmanteau in Russian meaning “Death to Spies” and was a counterintelligence organization on the Eastern Front during WWII.

Cover of a 1943 SMERSH Manual Cover of a 1943 SMERSH Manual

Finally, the plots for many of the Bond novels came from real-world missions carried out by the Allies. “Moonraker” is based on the exploits of the 30 AU in Kiel, Germany, while “Thunderball” has loose connections to Fleming’s canceled operation Ruthless. Fleming also ties in his fictional world to the historical one after the war and during the Cold War.

Fleming’s novels became very popular during his life and have remained so long after his death in 1964. His work spawned one of the most successful movie franchises in history.

Articles

New legislation could provide mental health care to combat veterans

Recent investigations show that the Department of Defense has issued thousands of other-than-honorable discharges to veterans with mental health and behavioral health diagnoses.


U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and seven other senators introduced legislation to change that.

On April 3, Murphy, veterans, and advocates for veterans held a press conference in Connecticut and called upon Congress to take action.

“I can’t stand the idea of a veteran risking her or his life for this country, suffering the wounds of battle, and then being kicked to the curb as a result of those wounds,” Murphy said. “But that is exactly what has happened to tens of thousands of men and women who have fought and bled for our country.”

“This is common sense,” Murphy added. “We are breaking our promise to those who served.”

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
In 2014, 6 of the 20 veterans per day committing suicide were users of VA services.

Murphy said there is also a stigma that comes with an other-than-honorable discharge that is a heavy burden for veterans to live with. “A lot of these so-called offenses are very minor,” Murphy said.

The legislation Murphy helped introduce would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide mental health and behavioral health services to diagnosed former combat veterans who have been other-than-honorably discharged. The bill would also ensure that veterans receive a decision in a timely manner and requires the VA to justify to Congress any denial of benefits that they issue to a veteran.

Up until recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Murphy said, denied it had the legal authority to provide any care to former combat veterans who received OTH or Bad Paper discharges.

The VA has reversed course on the matter, Murphy said, adding that now it’s time for Congress to act to ensure mental health and behavioral health services are provided to these veterans.

Since January 2009, the Army has “separated” at least 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they came back from Iraq and Afghanistan, said Murphy.

“These soldiers who fought for our country suffered serious mental health problems or traumatic brain injury as a cost of their service. And we turned our back on them,” Murphy said, adding that they also return home from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But instead of being directed to the care and treatment they need, they’re being given other-than-honorable discharges or so-called “bad paper discharges,” disqualifying them from VA care, especially the mental and behavioral health services many of them desperately need, said the senator.

Murphy’s strong support for the bill was echoed by Blumenthal, who is a sponsor but was not at Monday’s press conference.

“This bill will make crystal clear that all combat veterans should have access to the full array of mental and behavioral health care they need and deserve,” Blumenthal said. “We cannot wait for a crisis to provide essential mental health to veterans suffering from the terrible invisible wounds of war.”

He said 20 veterans per day are lost to suicide.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Chiefs and chief selects do pushups for the 22Kill Challenge aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). 22Kill is a veterans’ advocacy group that brings awareness to the daily veterans’ suicide rate. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tristan Lotz/Released)

One of those in attendance at the press conference Monday was Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran from New Haven who developed PTSD as a result of his military service.

In 2014, Monk and four other plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit because they were issued OTH discharges. They won the suit, which was brought on their behalf by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School and the Pentagon agreed to upgrade their discharges to honorable.

Another veteran to speak Monday was was Tom Burke, president of the Yale Student Veterans Council and a U.S. Marine corps veteran.

In 2009, Burke was a Marine infantryman in Afghanistan.

It was when he was in the Helmand Province that he witnessed deaths of many young children who were killed by an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade. One of Burke’s responsibilities was to cart away the dismembered bodies.

“I began smoking hash,” Burke said, adding that in a matter of weeks he was charged for misconduct for his drug use and was told he would be kicked out of the Marines.

Burke said he “tried to commit suicide a few times.”

He said he was later locked in a psychiatric hospital and subsequently given an OTH discharge later in 2009.

In 2014, Burke said he applied for an honorable discharge, but was denied.

Burke tells his story often, these days, not to elicit empathy for his own case, but to try and draw attention to the bigger issue of the thousands like him who are being denied benefits.

“Veterans are dying,” Burke said. “These aren’t men and women who are trying to take advantage of the system.”

Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, said veterans need relief.

Under the current system, a veteran trying to get an honorable discharge often “requires the expertise and cost of an attorney and lengthy research,” something that veterans returning from combat shouldn’t be forced to endure, she said.

Murphy concluded: “Our veterans made a commitment to our country when they signed up. I introduced this legislation to make sure that the VA keeps its commitment to help veterans with mental and behavioral health issues. I won’t stop fighting until they get the care and benefits they deserve.”

Articles

13 funniest military memes for the week of Aug. 4

Congrats to everyone who ETSed this week. For the rest of you, here’s a little soul-balm to get you through any weekend duties you got assigned.


13. It’s fine. All that yelling is just part of your life now (via ASMDSS).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
The good news is that you’re not going through the worst yet. It gets WAY worse.

12. Boots are gonna boot (via Coast Guard Memes).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
I mean, being nerdy in uniform is hardly the worst thing that guy could be getting into.

ALSO SEE: This is a perfect example of how ridiculous boot camp is

11. For instance, he could be giving into his newfound alcoholism (via Decelerate Your Life).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Don’t fall, branch. Only 15 more years until retirement.

10. It’s really the only proper way to greet a career counselor (via Decelerate Your Life).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
CS also works well if you happen to have access to it.

9. Junior enlisted have lots of idea (via Decelerate Your Life).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
It’s just that they’re mostly about how to best play screw, marry, kill.

8. The Marine Corps pays you to drive, not to think (via Military World).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Now hit the gas,. I’m about to run out of oxygen.

7. Why are Marines so cranky? They got all them nice sketches and no crayons to color them with (via Sh-t my LPO says).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Bon appetite.

6. To be honest, you only think she looks that good at homecoming (via Sh-t my LPO says).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
And the reintegration thing is her fault. We bought an extra controller and co-op games for a reason.

5. “Driver” and “passenger” sides aren’t good enough for you Navy? (via Sh-t my LPO says)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

4. Any unit that lets you wear that to work is worth a second chance (via Why I’m Not Re-enlisting).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

3. This isn’t going to end well for anyone (via Why I’m Not Re-enlisting).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
There are so many better ways to get crackers, man.

2. With that haircut and those tan lines, the ID is pretty superfluous anyway (via Why I’m Not Re-enlisting).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Pretty sure those sailors sat down after their neighbors on the beach. No way the girls chose to sit next to them.

1. So, this one’s not technically a joke (via Air Force Nation).

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
Just really great advice. D-mnit, finance.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia just tried to claim they took on US fighter jets

Russian media on Jan. 28, 2019, sparked a social-media frenzy after the release of photos that seem to show a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet locked in the crosshairs of a Russian fighter jet.

Online, a source claiming to represent a Russian fighter-jet pilot surfaced with the picture and said two Su-35s tailed and “humiliated” the US jets until a Japanese F-15 surfaced to support the F/A-18s, which the Russians also said were out-maneuvered and embarrassed.


Russian commenters rushed to brand the incident as proof of the “total superiority of the Russian and the total humiliation of the Americans.”

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

A U.S. Navy F/A-18C in flight.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The same source previously said they beat a US F-22 stealth fighter in a mock dogfight — a fighting scenario that involves close-range turning and maneuvering — in the skies above Syria, but this incident supposedly took place over Russia’s far-east region.

The source recently became the first to feature images of Russia’s new stealth combat drone, suggesting some degree of official linkage or access to the Russian military. Russian media, for its part, accepts the source’s claims.

Lt. Cmdr. Joe Hontz, a US European Command spokesman, told Business Insider that US “aircraft and ships routinely interact with Russian units in international airspace and seas, and most interactions are safe and professional.”

“Unless an interaction is unsafe, we will not discuss specific details,” Hontz added.

This suggests that either the encounter happened and was deemed totally safe, or that the encounter did not happen.

The US did have an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Regan, in Russia’s far-east region and in Japan in late January 2019. Japanese fighter jets regularly train with the US.

Russia’s Su-35 holds several advantages over US F/A-18s in dogfights. But, as Business Insider has extensively reported, dogfighting — the focus of World War II air-to-air combat — has taken on a drastically reduced importance in real combat.

The F-15’s dogfighting abilities more closely match up with the Su-35, but, again, these jets now mainly seek to fight and win medium-range standoffs with guided missiles, rather than participate in dogfights.

Additionally, Russian media has a history of running with tales of military or moral victories in their armed forces that usually end with something for Russians to cheer about at the expense of US, which is usually exposed as incompetent.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

7 places US forces fought the nation’s enemies in 2018

The US military gave or took fire in some form or another in at least seven countries in 2018: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya.

Here’s a breakdown of America’s military involvement in each country.


Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

U.S. Army Pfc. Aaron Birmingham, an infantryman with 1st Platoon, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, from Alpena, Mich., keeps on eye on a wadi in Andar, Afghanistan, April 21, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Guffey)

The war in Afghanistan

At least 15 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2018 in a war that entered its 18th year in October 2018.

The deadliest incident of the year occurred in late November 2018, involving a roadside bomb that ultimately claimed the lives of four US service members. This marked the largest loss of life in a single incident for the US in Afghanistan since 2015.

There are currently roughly 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting 50. Cal Weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.

(US Marine Corps photo)

The fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria

The US military also continues to be active in Iraq and Syria in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group, conducting airstrikes and advising local forces on the ground.

At least 10 US service members were killed in Iraq in 2018, though none of the deaths were a direct result of enemy action.

Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar was killed by a roadside bomb in Syria in late March 2018.

Human rights groups have accused the US-led coalition of reckless behavior and “potential war crimes” in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

While civilian casualties are still being assessed for 2018, a report from the monitoring group Airwars said the US and its allies may have killed up to 6,000 civilians via strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2017 alone.

The US has been waging a campaign against the Islamic State group since August 2014.

In April 2018, President Donald Trump also authorized missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, targeting chemical weapons facilities in concert with the French and British.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Missile strikes on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

In April 2018, President Donald Trump also authorized missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, targeting chemical weapons facilities in concert with the French and British.

The US fired more than 118 missiles, more than twice the number it used in an attack on Syria’s Sharyat Airbase on April 7, 2017.

Shadow wars in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan

Under Trump, the US has also dramatically increased the number of drone strikes in places the US is not currently at war.

In 2018, there have been a slew of strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan, where the US is fighting what have been dubbed “shadow wars.”

The US conducted at least one drone strike in Pakistan in 2018, at least 36 in Yemen, and at least 39 in Somalia, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been tracking US drone strikes in these countries for years.

As the numbers above show, the US military has been particularly active in Somalia in 2018, where it’s been focusing on aiding local forces in the fight against the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which is an al Qaeda affiliate.

In June 2018, Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Conrad was killed in southwestern Somalia when militants attacked his team as it worked alongside Somali and Kenyan troops.

The US has also been active in Libya in 2018, where it’s launched roughly half a dozen air strikes against militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

A US strike conducted in Libya in late November 2018 killed 11 al Qaeda-linked militants, according to US Africa Command. But locals have reportedly protested after the strike, claiming civilians were targeted.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(Official US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ned Johnson)

The war on terror entered its 18th year in 2018

The various operations in which the US took or gave fire in 2018 were linked to the so-called “war on terror.”

Since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the US has spent nearly trillion on the broad, ill-defined conflict, which has claimed nearly 500,000 lives, according to an annual report from the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs.

According to the report, America is conducting counterterror operations in 76 countries, and nearly 7,000 US troops have been killed since the war on terror began.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

9 epic photos of riverine sailors preparing for combat

The U.S. Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron 1 is proving itself right now in preparation for mobilization, and its sailors have been showing off at tasks from convoy security to medical aid to speeding around in boats (a fun and major part of their mission) in complex tasks at Camp Pendleton, California.


So, it’s a bunch of badass sailors playing with machine guns and boats in Southern California. Wanna see some photos? Yeah, of course you do.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Engineman 2nd Class Christian McCain of Arlington, Texas engages opposing forces while dismounted with a M240 machine gun.

.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Articles

China to deploy its first home-built aircraft carrier

China has quietly been reaching a naval milestone: They floated their first indigenous aircraft carrier on April 23, 2017. The vessel is sort of a half-sister to their current aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.


The Liaoning was once the Varyag, Russia’s second Kuznetsov-class carrier. If you’ve followed WATM, you probably have heard about the Kuznetsov’s many problems. The splash landings, the hellacious accommodations, and the need for oceangoing tugs to sail along because the engines are shit are just the tip of the iceberg for the Kuznetsov. During that carrier’s first-ever combat deployment in 2016, the Russians flew the Kuznetsov’s air wing from shore bases. Or course, their video tribute glossed over all those realities.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
The Liaoning. (JMSDF photo)

And the Chinese decided to copy this less-than-successful vessel – which probably should be hauled away to the boneyard.

According to DefenseNews.com, the new vessel, reportedly named Shandong, is almost a copy of the Liaoning. The big difference is in the arrangement of phased-array radars. But it has the same limited capacity (roughly 36 planes). Appropriately, the carrier has been designated as he Type 001A, while the Liaoning was designated Type 001.

The Liaoning has made some trips to sea. Japan took photos of the Liaoning and some escorts near the South China Sea, one of the biggest maritime flashpoints in the world, last year.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care
China’s carrier Liaoning

The Shandong, though, may be the only ship in her subclass. The DefenseNews.com report notes that China is no longer testing the ski ramp – and instead has been trying to build catapults for launching aircraft. According to GlobalSecurity.org, China is planning to build two Type 002 aircraft carriers, followed by a nuclear-powered design, the Type 003.

The Type 002 carriers are slated to include catapults – which are far better at launching planes than the ski jump on the Kuznetsov-class design, and displace anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 tons. The Type 003 will displace about 100,000 tons and be comparable to the Nimitz and Ford-class carriers.

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

China has stated a goal of having 10 aircraft carriers by 2049.