New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Over the last 18 months, VA has been dedicated to implementing the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (Appeals Modernization Act). The Appeals Modernization Act was signed into law by President Trump on Aug. 23, 2017, and has been fully implemented beginning Feb. 19, 2019. VA is proud to now offer veterans greater choice in how they resolve a disagreement with a VA decision.


Veterans who appeal a VA decision on or after Feb. 19, 2019, have three decision review lanes to choose from: Higher-Level Review, Supplemental Claim, and appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board). VA’s goal is to complete Supplemental Claims and Higher-Level Reviews in an average of 125 days, and decisions appealed to the Board for direct review in an average of 365 days. This is a vast improvement to the average three to seven years veterans waited for a decision in the legacy process.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Cupit)

Before appeals reform, pending appeals grew 350 percent from 100,000 in Fiscal Year 2001 to 450,000 in Fiscal Year 2017. In November 2017, VA initiated the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) to afford Veterans with a legacy appeal the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of the new process. RAMP ended Feb. 15, 2019, but VA remains committed to completing the inventory of legacy appeals.

This is a historic day for Veterans and their families. Appeals Modernization helps VA continue its effort to improve the delivery of benefits and services to Veterans and their families.

For more information on Appeals Modernization, visit http://www.va.gov/decision-reviews.

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

Articles

This is where North Korea would strike if it had a nuclear missile

North Korea is squaring off with a superpower, and propaganda has offered insight into the targets the North might aim for in the event of a conflict.


North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons technology is advancing rapidly. The North successfully tested a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile Sunday that some observers suspect may be the foundation for a future intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the key to threatening the U.S. mainland.

“The objective is to preserve the regime, right?” Vipin Narang, a MIT professor with a deep knowledge of nuclear strategy, told The Washington Post. “You really have to stop the invasion. If you think you need nuclear weapons to do that, how do you deal with the fact that the U.S. is going to make you a smoldering, radioactive hole at the end of that? Well, if you can hold American homeland targets at risk, that might induce caution.”

The North is still developing the technology to strike the U.S. with an ICBM, despite their aggressive threats. Nonetheless, North Korean propaganda offers insight into the targets they might shoot for if they had one.

A North Korean photo from 2013 reveals a map, which some analysts call the “Map of Death,” identifying U.S. targets for potential nuclear strikes.

Open source intelligence analysts suspect that the four targets identified on the map are Hawaii, San Diego, Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. The U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet is headquartered in Hawaii, and its home base is in San Diego. Barksdale is the headquarters for Air Force Global Strike Command, which is essential for U.S. nuclear deterrence and global strikes. The Department of Defense and other national security agencies are located in D.C.

Other analysts add Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where U.S. Strategic Command is located, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, home to nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers, according to WaPo. The North could also potentially threaten Seattle or San Francisco. North Korea revealed a propaganda video featuring a simulated nuclear strike on the latter during a state concert celebrating the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung last month.

An ICBM test is expected this year, according to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

While it cannot yet strike the U.S. mainland, North Korea has the weapons technology to hold Northeast Asia hostage.

Eager to stave off a U.S. invasion, the North, according to the rhetoric in their state media reports, would likely focus on U.S. military bases and high-profile strategic assets, like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system being installed in South Korea.

North Korea launched a salvo of extended-range Scud missiles early March into the East Sea/Sea of Japan, with North Korean state media claiming the Korean People’s Army was rehearsing for strikes on U.S. bases in Japan. Open source intelligence reports revealed the North was aiming for Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, where a squadron of forward-deployed F-35s were stationed. When the USS Ohio made a port call to Busan last year, the North fired a missile into the sea. Open source intelligence, coupled with media reports at the time, revealed that the North was practicing bombing Busan.

The North’s newest missile, the Hwasong-12, has a range that puts Guam, specifically Anderson Air Force Base, within striking distance. The U.S. has a number of strategic bombers stationed in Guam, several of which have flown past the DMZ in a show of force.

“If the US goes reckless, misjudging the trend of the times and the strategic position of the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], all the US military bases in the operational theater in the Pacific, including Guam, will face ruin in the face of an all-out and substantial attack mounted by the army of the DPRK,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson told the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in August last year.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A 101-year-old WWII vet commissioned his grandson at the Air Force Academy

The Air Force Academy graduated 989 newly-minted Air Force officers in 2019. As part of their graduation, each cadet gets his or her own pinning-on of their new rank, often done by the new officer’s loved ones. One cadet had the oath of a new military member given by an old former airman who was flying when the Air Force was still called the Army Air Corps.


New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(U.S. Air Force Academy photo)

Newly-commissioned 2nd Lt. Joseph Kloc had his new rank pinned on by his mother and father in May 2019. Among the other family members who made the trek to Colorado Springs was the young man’s 101-year-old grandfather, Walter Kloc. The elder Kloc was an Air Corps bombardier officer who served in World War II. It was Maj. Walter Klock who delivered his grandson’s oath, commissioning him into the U.S. Air Force.

According to Kloc’s wife Virginia, Walter was incredibly excited to go, give the oath and then deliver some words of wisdom to his grandson.

“[I wanted to] congratulate him on his great work and what he’s done and wish him a good future,” Kloc told Buffalo NBC affiliate WGRZ.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Before delivering the oath, Walter was greeted with a standing ovation by the assembled crowd. He delivered the oath in his old uniform and then watched on as his son pinned the younger Kloc’s rank on his epaulets. The moment was an emotional one for everyone involved.

“I’m so excited for him,” 2nd Lt. Joseph Kloc’s father William Kloc told WGRZ before their trip to Colorado. “He’s fulfilling his dream and he was so excited that his grandfather, a World War II Air Force bombardier pilot, could come and commission him.”

Articles

Air Force advances future plans for the A-10

The Air Force is beginning to work on how fast, lethal, durable and capable a new “A-10”-like aircraft would need to be in order to provide U.S. military ground troops with effective close-air support for decades to come.


Senior service officials are now exploring “draft requirements” concepts – and evaluating the kind of avionics, engineering, weapons, armor and technical redundancy the aircraft would need, Air Force officials told Scout Warrior.

Also read: Here’s what it’s like to fly attack missions in the A-10

Many of the core technical attributes and combat advantages of the A-10 will be preserved and expanded upon with the new effort, officials said.

The performance of the A-10 Warthog in the ongoing bombing campaign against ISIS, coupled with the Air Forces’ subsequent decision to delay the aircraft’s planned retirement – has led the service to begin the process of developing a new, longer-term A-10 type platform.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
A member of the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron refuels a 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II during forward area refueling point training at Plovdiv, Bulgaria | U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luke Kitterman

Following an announcement earlier this year from Pentagon leaders that the A-10 will not begin retiring but rather will serve until at least 2022, Air Force and DoD officials are now hoping to keep a close-air-support aircraft for many years beyond the previously projected timeframe.

Given the emerging global threat environment, it would make sense that the Air Force would seek to preserve an aircraft such as the A-10. While the aircraft has been extremely successful attacking ISIS targets such as fuel convoys and other assets, the A-10 is also the kind of plane that can carry and deliver a wide-ranging arsenal of bombs to include larger laser-guided and precision weapons.

This kind of firepower, coupled with its 30mm cannon, titantium armor plates and built-in redundancy for close-air-support, makes the A-10 a valuable platform for potential larger-scale mechanized, force-on-force type warfare as well. The A-10 has a unique and valuable niche role to perform in the widest possible range of combat scenarios to include counterinsurgency, supporting troops on the ground in close proximity and bringing firepower, protection and infantry support to a large-scale war.

Air Force officials have told Scout Warrior that the current approach involves a three-pronged effort; the Air Force may consider simply upgrading the existing fleet of A-10s in a substantial way in order to extend its service life, acquire an off-the-shelf existing aircraft or develop a new close air support platform through a developmental effort.

“We are developing that draft requirements document.  We are staffing it around the Air Force now.  When it’s ready, then we will compare that to what we have available, compare it to keeping the A-10, compare it to what it would take to replace it with another airplane, and we will work through that process,” Lt. Gen. James Holmes, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, told reporters.

Holmes went on to explain that the service was, broadly speaking, exploring ways to achieve, preserve and sustain “air superiority” in potential long-term, high-end combat engagements. He added that considerations about a close-air-support replacement aircraft figured prominently in the strategic calculus surrounding these issues.

As a result, the Air Force will be looking for the “optimal” type of close-air-support platform by weighing various considerations such as what the differences might be between existing aircraft and future developmental platforms.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
A-10 Thunderbolt IIs break over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex and one aircraft drops a flare during live-fire training at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. | U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert Wieland)

Cost and affordability will also be a very large part of the equation when it comes to making determinations about an A-10 replacement, Holmes explained.

“The question is exactly where is the sweet spot as we talked about between what’s available now and what the optimum CAS replacement would be.  We are working along that continuum to see exactly what the requirement is that we can afford and the numbers that we need to be able to do the mission,” Holmes added.

Several industry platforms, such as Raytheon’s T-X plane and the A-29 Embraer EMB Super Tucano aircraft, are among options being looked at as things which could potentially be configured for a close-air-support plane.

Having the requisite funds to support this would be of great value to the Air Force; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh recently told lawmakers that, despite the prior plan, the service did not want to retire the A-10.

Prior plans to retire the fleet of A-10s were purely budget driven, senior Air Force leaders have consistently said.

“I don’t want to retire it,” Welsh told a Congressional Committee in early March.

Air Force leaders had previously said that the emerging multi-role F-35 would be able to pick up the close-air-support mission. With its sensor technology, 25mm gun and maneuverability, there is little question about whether the F-35 could succeed with these kinds of missions. At the same time, there is also consensus that the A-10 provides an extremely unique set of battlefield attributes which need to be preserved for decades.

Articles

This Soviet pilot stole the plane of a Nazi pilot who landed to try and kill him

In 1942, not long after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Soviet pilot S. Kuzniecov was returning to base from a reconnaissance mission over Nazi-occupied Russia. As he flew over Kalinin (modern-day Tver), he was ambushed by German Messerschmidt fighters. He was shot down and forced to crash land his Iluyshin Il-2.


A profile publication written by Witold Liss of the Il-2’s combat record describes what happened next.

One of the German pilots landed at a nearby flat strip of land to collect souvenirs from his prey and to kill the Soviet pilot if he was still alive. But Kuzniecov wasn’t in the cockpit of the downed fighter anymore. He hid in the nearby woodline waiting for the enemy pilot.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
Soviet Il-2 over Berlin in 1945. Earlier models were single-seat aircraft.

As soon as the German approached Kuzniecov’s Il-2, Kuzniecov made a mad dash to the German’s waiting Messerschmidt. He took off and headed for home. But his troubles didn’t end there.

Soviet pilots didn’t take kindly to German Me-109 fighters approaching their airbases. The Russian managed to survive getting shot down by the Nazis and almost died trying to avoid getting shot down by his comrades.

He did survive and was later awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest honor the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women. Kuzniecov was blinded by anti-aircraft fire over Poland in 1944. He managed to land his new Il-2 in a wheels-up crash landing, but what happened to him after he left the cockpit is unknown to this day.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
Ilyushin Il-2 fighters at the Battle of Kursk.

When the Il-2 first appeared, it was called the “Flying Infantryman” by the Red Army, as beloved by ground troops as the A-10 is for Americans today. When given an inspection and a test flight, American Ace Eddie Rickenbacker called it the “best aircraft of its type in the world” and the “Beast from the East.”

It lived up to the hype as maybe the most important Soviet airframe of World War II.

Military Life

3 myths about females in combat positions, dispelled

Women have always been present in war, whether it be as nurses tending to the wounded or in other career fields not typically exposed to combat. The truth is, even women who are not designated in combat positions still experience run-ins with enemy fire and combat situations and continue to do their jobs.


The recent lifting of the restriction that kept women out of combat positions stirred a flurry of controversy. Even still, some wonder if this was the best choice for the military because of the “myths” that have surrounded women and their military service.

Let’s dispel a few of those myths.

3. Myth: Women are too nurturing to pull the trigger.

Yes, women have children, and yes, women often are nurturing, but saying a woman wouldn’t pull the trigger to save herself and her fellow service members just because it’s not thought to be in “her nature,” is obviously false. Women who choose to be in the military and sign up for a combat position know what’s at stake and are aware they’re not out there to play house or coddle babies.

Although you may not think of your mother going out and kicking some ass on the front line, there are women out there who would love to take a stab at it (literally). That’s why the military decided to allow women to choose if they think they have the ability to fight alongside their male counterparts in combat.

Not every woman has children but, even if motherhood instills a nurturing disposition, you can bet that it only would further drive a woman to accomplish the mission and destroy whatever lies in her path to keep her children, and her team for that matter, safe.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
Do animals coddle enemies trying to attack their family? Think about that.

2. Myth: Women are not strong enough.

Long before the U.S. military allowed women to enter career fields other than nursing, there was a stigma centered on females’ physical capabilities. To date, standards in every military branch are separated and women’s qualifications on PT tests are lower than men’s.

But just because women perform their PT tests at a lower standard than men doesn’t mean that some women have not exceeded the minimum, and even surpassed men in their ability.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
Or literally carried them. (U.S. Army photo)

Combat position requirements will not be lowered for women but that doesn’t mean some can’t rise to the challenge. The women who have broken the stigma of weakness by meeting the physical qualifications of combat positions led the way for others to break free and challenge themselves.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
All the way. (U.S. Army photo)

1. Myth: PMS will get in the way of completing duties

The biggest myth is about the mood swings that spring out of the blue, making the work environment tense. If this is the case, then every workplace in the U.S. is always tense because women work everywhere and, surprisingly, still do their jobs — and do them well.

When it comes down to it, women know being in the military is not about being pretty, smelling nice, or letting emotions go wild on those around them. How do you think women in the military are doing their jobs right now? Women are professionals and can handle day-to-day stressors and the deployment conditions just like men. PMS is more of an issue for some of the men in the military than the women who serve.

Recently, a survey taken by SOCOM on the opinion of male special-ops personnel included statements such as, “I think PMS is terrible, possibly the worst. I cannot stand my wife for about a week out of every month. I like that I can come to work and not have to deal with that (E-6, SWCC).”

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
PMS: Worse than ISIS.

Apparently, women are men’s worst nightmares during PMS.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force is preparing for a war without satellites

Exercise Red Flag is the much-less famous, Air Force version of TOPGUN. It had the same impetus as TOPGUN – the Vietnam War highlighted some very serious shortcomings in how the service prepared to fight a war. Red Flag, however, doesn’t just feature the air-to-air stuff. Red Flag takes it a step further and trains pilots in air-to-ground combat as well.


Sometimes, Red Flag is a very international affair, with participants from all over the world. The current Red Flag, though, is going to be a much more… private affair. According to Popular Mechanics, the United States is only bringing in some of its closest allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia. This is because this Red Flag is being run without the use of the Global Positioning System, or GPS.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
A four-ship formation of F-22 Raptors from the 94th Fighter Squadron and 1st Fighter Wing fly in formation over the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The four aircraft were in transit back to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. after participating in Red Flag 17-4 Aug. 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Why? Just take a look at the news: Both Communist China and Russia are working on deploying systems that can destroy American satellites. Among the satellites at potential risk are those of the GPS system. This would put a serious crimp in not just navigation, but also in munitions guidance. Weapons like the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Joint Stand-Off Weapon use GPS to get within about 30 feet of a target.

The good news is that GPS is not the only tool that American pilots have. There are inertial navigation systems and radios that don’t rely on the satellites. GPS, however, has become the preferred tool. As such, if an enemy were to knock some or all of the constellation out, American forces would be greatly disadvantaged.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
A B-1B Lancer taking part in Green Flag, an exercise similar to Red Flag, over Nellis Air Force Base. (USAF photo)

This year’s Red Flag is recreating that scenario to prepare pilots for the worst. The United States will be getting a good idea of how to fight without GPS. Participants will be getting plenty of practice doing so when the stakes are little more than a bunch of bruised egos.

How did they shut off GPS over the deserts of Nevada? They aren’t saying — after all, no need to give the enemy ideas.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Has anyone seen the Turkmen president lately?

The big news from Turkmenistan in the last few weeks has been that the country’s mercurial president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has been absent from the news for large periods of time.

That’s unusual because he normally dominates the state-run broadcasts.

And the few times Berdymukhammedov has been on television since going on vacation nearly one month ago, his appearances have raised more doubts than offered evidence of his well-being.

While officially on vacation, that has never stopped Turkmen state media from following Berdymukhammedov around in previous years.


But his absence from nightly Turkmen television newscasts and daily reports in state print media have some people seriously considering rumors that Berdymukhammedov is in poor health or possibly even dead.

Berdymukhammedov had already been officially on vacation for almost one week when Aslan Rubaev, identified as the director of the Center for Monitoring Eurasian Problems, told the Russian radio station and Internet news site Govoritmoskva.ru that Berdymukhammedov had died of acute renal failure on July 20, 2019.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

There was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why the president chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.

(Turkmenistan.gov)

The news spread like wildfire across Russian-language media and it was only after a few hours later that the Turkmen embassies in Russia and Kyrgyzstan issued statements rejecting stories that the Turkmen president had died.

Before the end of the day, Rubaev was making a public apology for his remarks, saying they were unfounded.

But Berdymukhammedov had still not been seen and the rumors persisted.

Finally, on July 24, 2019, there were reports Berdymukhammedov had spoken by telephone with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev to wish him a happy birthday.

Later that evening, Turkmen television news aired footage of Berdymukhammedov inspecting plans for a new district in the capital, Ashgabat, without explaining why the president had decided to break away from his vacation to look at drawings of new bus stops.

And then Berdymukhammedov vanished from local news again.

His next appearance in state media was not until Aug. 4, 2019, when state television showed a series of clips of Berdymukhammedov riding a bicycle, exercising, firing a rifle, bowling, riding a horse, working on a new book, composing a new song, and driving an SUV through the desert to the Gates of Hell — a perpetually burning crater that resulted from an attempt to flare gas there in the early 1970s.

He also appeared on state television on Aug. 5, 2019, holding a video conference call with officials.

On Aug. 3, 2019, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s office released a statement about Medvedev’s impending trip to Turkmenistan to attend the Caspian Economic Forum in the Turkmen Caspian resort of Avaza, adding that he planned to meet there with Berdymukhammedov.

Turkmenistan’s Singer, Race-car Driver, Jockey, Autocrat

www.youtube.com

Not very convincing

That is the proof that has been offered to show Berdymukhammedov is alive and well.

But there are still many reasons to think that something is wrong with him.

Berdymukhammedov’s appearances on state television on July 24 and Aug. 4-5, 2019, were not entirely convincing.

As mentioned, there was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why Berdymukhammedov chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.

And RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, noted that Berdymukhammedov was wearing exactly the same suit and tie as he wore in a May 10 broadcast on state television, which is strange because he never wears the same suit — or even the same clothes — twice in his television appearances.

Berdymukhammedov did not speak in the footage aired on July 24, 2019, for example, to say he had just spoken with the Uzbek president, as was reported.

The Turkmen president also did not speak in the Aug. 4, 2019 footage aired on Turkmen TV, and the clips seem to be a compilation of his usual bizarre antics that are regularly shown on the evening news, and of which there is almost certainly an abundance of archive material from the cutting-room floor.

His hair is gray in the recent appearances, but that only narrows down the time frame to anytime during the last year or so, when he stopped dying it black.

The headlines of the reports seemed aimed at quieting rumors of ill health or worse.

Turkmenistan Aug. 6, 2019’s headline said, “Turkmenistan’s President Dedicates His Vacation To A Creative And Active Life,” and the Golden Age website’s headline read “The Turkmen Leader’s Vacation: Active Leisure, Literary And Musical Creativity.”

The Aug. 5, 2019 footage showed Berdymukhammedov discussing the country’s economic performance, agriculture, preparations for the Aug. 11-12, 2019 Caspian Economic Forum and the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayramy.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Image of Berdimuhamedow, on display outside the national horse-racing ground in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

But again, Berdymukhammedov did not refer to any recent event that would have proven the footage was from sometime during the last two or three weeks. The conversations could have taken place several weeks or months ago.

Absent from the video conference was any criticism of officials’ work, or reprimands for shortcomings, which are typical of these video conferences. It was also unclear why he again interrupted his vacation to hold the video conference.

Similarly, state print media had an unusual gap in reports featuring Berdymukhammedov.

News about the Turkmen president has always dominated state media coverage, going back to the early days of first Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

A July 25, 2019 report about Berdymukhammedov congratulating new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the last news about Berdymukhammedov for more than one week on the Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) state website until a report appeared on Aug. 4, 2019, about the footage shown on state television. The same was true on state website Turkmenistan Today.

The last reports featuring Berdymukhammedov on the Russian-based pro-government website Turkmenistan.ru are from July 25, 2019; one congratulating Johnson and another about birthday wishes for Mirziyoev.

Even stranger, Turkmenistan.ru on Aug. 1, 2019 reported about the CEO of the Malaysian company Petronas, Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, visiting Avaza and meeting with Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and gas-and-oil-sector chief Yashigeldy Kakaev.

Berdymukhammedov’s name is not even mentioned in the report.

Petronas has been doing business in Turkmenistan since 1996. Petronas developed and is still working Block 1 in Turkmenistan’s sector of the Caspian Sea, “the first PSA to be awarded by the government of Turkmenistan.”

Petronas has invested more than billion in Turkmenistan and was a sponsor of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that Turkmenistan hosted. When Berdymukhammedov visited Malaysia in November 2016, he made a point of meeting with Ariffin, as he had met with previous Petronas head Dato Shamsul Azhar in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. Berdymukhammedov also met with Azhar’s predecessor, Hassan Marican, in Ashgabat in May 2009.

Despite the history of close ties to the heads of Petronas, Berdymukhammedov could not find even a few minutes to meet with Ariffin at a resort area in Turkmenistan.

On July 25, 2019, Afghanistan completed the Aqina-Andkhoi segment of a railway line that is to link Turkmenistan to Tajikistan via northern Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan has been facing hard economic times since 2015 and this should have been good news for the country. Turkmenistan sent a delegation to a ceremony launching the new line that was reported on by Turkmen media. But there was not a word attributed to Berdymukhammedov about the accomplishment and what it could mean for Turkmenistan.

Where is he?

The immediate denials of Berdymukhammedov’s death came, as mentioned, from Turkmenistan’s embassies in Moscow and Bishkek.

But how would they know? Both embassies reacted rather quickly, almost automatically, rejecting reports of bad news about Turkmenistan as they usually do.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has not issued any statements denying the rumors Berdymukhammedov is ill or dead. In fact, while Berdymukhammedov has been on vacation it is not clear who exactly is running the country, though it does appear Foreign Minister Meredov is acting as the host to visitors.

And even Berdymukhammedov’s vacation is unusual this year.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Turkmenistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov cut the ribbon to open an exhibition.

As the Hronika Turkmenistana website pointed out, he usually only takes two weeks of summer vacation. This year, his vacation is from July 15 to August 15.

Berdymukhammedov has in the past often taken his ministers, or many of them, along with him on vacation. Some of the ministers were at Avaza playing various sports at the end of July, but Berdymukhammedov was never shown among them, which is very unusual, as he customarily is on TV instructing his ministers how to exercise properly.

Again, the media is not following Berdymukhammedov around and showing footage of him frolicking on the Caspian shores or inspecting Turkmenistan’s naval vessels or merchant fleet.

There was some footage at the very start of his vacation of him playing with his grandchildren and some kittens.

Turkmenistan has always been a unique, some would say bizarre, place, but in the last few weeks there is a feeling that things are not right. Established patterns of behavior are being ruptured without any credible explanation as to why.

It seems Berdymukhammedov has suffered some sort of problem, otherwise it would have been easy enough for him to appear on state television and say something — anything — about current events. On the other hand, Turkmen media is now devoting a great deal of effort to convince people that their president of the last 12 years is alive and healthy.

Although the first Caspian Economic Forum should be the focus of attention when it opens in Avaza on August 11, everyone will now be concentrating on whether Berdymukhammedov will make an appearance and, if he does, if he shows any signs of having suffered some illness or physical setback.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

5 basic things you should know about the thrift savings plan

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising


Retirement planning can be stressful, but figuring out how to finance it takes a great deal of the stress away. Enter the government’s Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP. The first step in understanding TSPs is answering five basic questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Who: The thrift savings plan is available to federal employees and members of the uniformed services. It is managed by BlackRock, a financial planning and investment firm headquartered in New York City.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

What: TSP is a retirement savings plan similar to a private sector 401(k). Federal employees and military personnel can contribute up to a certain percentage of their base pay to their TSP. BlackRock assigns a broker to manage TSP accounts. Brokers are not held to the same standards as fiduciaries in that a broker has no vested interest in your funds; rather a broker’s only job is to invest money in suitable securities.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

When: If you are a federal employee who joined your agency after 2010, you’re automatically enrolled in TSP with 3 percent of your base pay sent to your TSP; your agency matches this contribution automatically. If you joined your agency before 2010, an automatic 1 percent of your base pay is sent to TSP; your agency matches your additional contributions above the 1 percent. Military members must set up their own contributions and there is no matching contribution from the military.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Where: Military members can set up contributions to TSP through MyPay. Which type of funds you decide to invest in will determine when you can access the funds from that investment. There are L Funds, which are “lifestyle funds” that you can withdraw from at a predetermined time. Then there are G, F, S, C, and I funds, which rely on you to make your own investment decisions with a broker, according to the government’s TSP summary.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Why: A thrift savings plan gives you the ability to participate in a long-term retirement savings and investment plan. Additionally, you can choose between a regular TSP and a Roth TSP. Traditional TSP is tax free as you contribute, but you’ll pay taxes when you withdraw the funds. A Roth TSP allows you to pay taxes upon investment, and withdraw at a later date tax free. The upside to utilizing the government’s TSP is that you won’t pay fees to invest, and you’ll have a broker to manage the funds.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Every Marvel movie ranked from worst to best

After 11 years, 21 movies, and billions of dollars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no signs of slowing down.

“Captain Marvel” hit theaters March 2019 and is breathing new life into what has been a lackluster box office so far in 2019. “Avengers: Endgame” is also projected to break records at the box office when it’s released next month, and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” comes to theaters in July 2019.

But a lot will change for the MCU after this year.


Disney, which owns Marvel, will own the film rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four after merging with Fox. The producer Kevin Feige has said he expects that to happen within the first six months of 2019, at which point he’ll get the green light to develop projects with those characters.

It comes at a good time, as “Endgame” marks the end of this era for the MCU, and veteran actors like Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) are expected to retire from their roles.

But before the MCU faces a big shakeup, we ranked all 21 movies — including “Captain Marvel” — from worst to best.

Here’s every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, ranked:

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

21. “Iron Man 2” (2010)

Directed by Jon Favreau

After the highs of “Iron Man,” it didn’t take long for the MCU to plummet to its lowest.

If the “2” in “Iron Man 2” meant that everything had to be doubled — the villains, the characters, the number of MCU movies Gwyneth Paltrow is in that she didn’t watch— then “Iron Man 2” succeeds. But it’s just too overstuffed for its own good in an attempt to get audiences ready for “The Avengers” two years later.

The MCU has since become a well-oiled machine that knows how to balance it all. But in 2010, it was still working on that.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

20. “Thor” (2011)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

There’s nothing particularly horrible about “Thor,” but there’s nothing memorable either. It’s impressive that the movie works at all, considering that Thor, an alien god with daddy issues, was such a little-known character at the time, and Chris Hemsworth was not the superstar he is now. But James Gunn managed to turn even lesser-known and weirder characters into MCU standouts in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It would take a while for Thor to really come into his own.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel)

19. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008)

Directed by Louis Leterrier

We now know Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk, but in the second MCU movie, Edward Norton was in the role.

Out of all the MCU movies, “The Incredible Hulk” feels the least connected to the universe. Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest, has never appeared again, and neither has Tim Blake Nelson, who was teased as the Hulk’s archnemesis, the Leader.

But even with that tease, a sequel never happened, and the only character besides the Hulk to have any meaningful connection to the MCU has been General “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by William Hurt, who popped up again in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Disney / Marvel)

18. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)

Directed by Alan Taylor

It’s almost pointless to compare the first two “Thor” movies, as they’re both toward the bottom of the MCU barrel. But “The Dark World” is a tad more fun than “Thor,” and it’s integral in introducing one of the Infinity Stones (the Reality Stone) that Thanos ends up using to destroy half of humanity.

But Marvel still hadn’t realized that Hemsworth’s best attribute in the role is his humor, and the character — and the first two movies — suffer because of it.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

17. “Doctor Strange” (2016)

Directed by Scott Derrickson

“Doctor Strange” is the most overrated movie in the MCU. By 2016, movies like the Russos’ “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” had progressed the MCU into new territory, but “Doctor Strange” felt like a step back. Sure, the magic was cool, but it also relied on a formulaic plot with a forgettable love interest. (How do you not give Rachel McAdams more to do?!)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel)

16. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)

Directed by Joss Whedon

This “Avengers” sequel made the same mistake as “Iron Man 2”: cramming too much into its plot to serve the future of the franchise.

The movie features some cool action sequences, notably the Iron Man-Hulk battle. But it fails to distinguish Ultron, the Avengers’ biggest enemy in the comics, from other two-dimensional MCU villains, and it spends too much time setting up future movies. (What exactly is Thor doing?)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel)

15. “Ant-Man” (2015)

Directed by Peyton Reed

“Ant-Man” is a fun little Marvel movie, but not much else. Paul Rudd is charming in the lead role, and Evangeline Lilly is more than just a love interest as Hope van Dyne (the future Wasp). But the movie still falls into familiar territory, including a lackluster villain in Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Disney / Marvel)

14. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)

Directed by Joe Johnston

“The First Avenger” is arguably the first movie that “mattered” in the MCU. While “Iron Man” is better, “The First Avenger” sets up “The Avengers” better than “Iron Man,” which basically acts as a prequel to the big team-up movie.

“The First Avenger” would prove essential to the movies that came after — even “Infinity War” with the unexpected return of a character thought to be dead.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

13. “Iron Man 3” (2013)

Directed by Shane Black

“Iron Man 3” is the most divisive movie in the MCU, and for good reason. It takes some wacky turns, with a major twist that ruined the movie for plenty of people. But I admire that Black just went for it with this movie and delivered something that fans still argue over.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

12. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018)

Directed by Peyton Reed

While it’s not necessarily an “essential” MCU movie, it improves on the first “Ant-Man” in nearly every way, with plenty of heart and humor.

Reed came back to direct after replacing Edgar Wright at the last minute on the first movie, and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels as if he was more adjusted to the job, with some well-polished action sequences and a great handle on the characters.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel)

11. “Captain Marvel” (2019)

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Maybe in time “Captain Marvel” will inch higher on this list. But for now, it’s a solid entry into the MCU, but not a fantastic one.

Boden and Fleck are at their best in the character-driven aspects of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s the action the movie is lacking, which hurts it by the end.

Brie Larson is perfect in the title role, though, and her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury makes the movie. There are also some surprising twists that elicited plenty of reactions from theater audiences. If anything, this is a worthy appetizer for “Avengers: Endgame.”

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

10. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)

Directed by Jon Watts

I didn’t have a strong positive reaction to “Homecoming” when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me. Peter Parker’s motivations throughout the movie to be a hero — impressing Tony Stark — rubbed me the wrong way at first. But it’s hard not to like Tom Holland’s spot-on portrayal of the character, and the movie knows exactly what it wants to be: high-school ’80s classic meets modern superhero flick. And Michael Keaton is truly menacing as Adrian Toomes/Vulture in what began a hot streak for villains in the MCU.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel)

9. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017)

Directed by James Gunn

Though “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a step back from the first movie, it’s still the most underrated MCU movie. The “Guardians” movies are unique entries in the franchise, and it’s a shame Gunn was given the boot from the third movie, which is in limbo.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

8. “Iron Man” (2008)

Directed by Jon Favreau

The first movie — and still among the best — “Iron Man” kicked off what has become the most lucrative movie franchise of all time. But in 2008, it was just a fun superhero origin movie that defied the odds.

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, and it’s hard to think of anyone else who could have embodied the role with so much of the necessary charisma to sell a character who casual audiences hadn’t cared about.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

7. “The Avengers” (2012)

Directed by Joss Whedon

Four years after “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” proved that Marvel had what it takes to pull off a connected universe of movies. It’s even more impressive considering that the early MCU movies, like “Thor,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Incredible Hulk,” are some of the worst in the franchise. But “The Avengers” course-corrected, delivering a bona fide blockbuster that hadn’t been achieved before.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Disney / Marvel)

6. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

2014 marks the point when the MCU really got it together. There have been minimal low points since, and it’s because Kevin Feige and crew finally had the machine running smoothly with low-profile directors who could deliver surprising superhero movies.

Among those filmmakers were the Russos, who have become somewhat of the architects of the universe. After “The Winter Soldier,” an expertly crafted espionage thriller posing as a superhero movie, they went on to direct “Civil War,” “Infinity War,” and “Endgame.”

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Disney / Marvel Studios)

6. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)

Directed by Taika Waititi

“Thor: Ragnarok” is the most absurd movie in the MCU, but that’s only part of what makes it so good. This is when Marvel finally realized that Chris Hemsworth is an extremely funny guy with loads of charm and built a movie around that.

It’s also probably the closest thing we’ll get to another Hulk movie in the MCU.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Marvel Studios)

4. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

“Civil War” is loosely based on a 2007 comic-book event of the same name that pits Marvel’s superheroes against one another over the ethics of a registration act making it illegal for any superpowered person to not register their identities with the government.

The MCU version is obviously more contained, but that’s what makes it so good. It takes a huge storyline and successfully tells it through Captain America’s perspective, making it even more personal.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

3. “Black Panther” (2018)

Directed by Ryan Coogler

“Black Panther” is a lot of firsts: the first superhero movie to be nominated for best picture, the first movie to win Oscars for Marvel Studios, the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast.

It was more than just an MCU movie — it was a cultural event. And its box office reflects that. It was the highest-grossing movie in the US in 2018, breaking barriers and riding its success all the way to Oscar gold.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Disney)

2. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

“Infinity War” is an order of magnitude bigger than “Avengers” or “Civil War.” With a cast of over 20 characters, “Infinity War” is the culmination of 10 years of universe-building.

The Russos pulled it off, and they’re not done yet. After the most shocking ending in an MCU movie, the story will continue in “Endgame.”

But on its own, “Infinity War” is an impressive balancing act, and Josh Brolin’s Thanos lives up to the hype.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Disney)

1. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

Directed by James Gunn

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was the first MCU movie that really felt disconnected from the rest of the universe, but not in a negative way like “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s an important entry in the franchise from a story standpoint — but it’s also just a hilarious, fun, self-contained movie that turned an unknown group of characters into fan favorites.

It’s the most rewatchable movie in the MCU, with a brilliant soundtrack, but it’s the characters that really make it, from the dynamic between Rocket and Groot to the oblivious Drax. They don’t like each other at first, but the audience loves them as soon as they’re introduced.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Washington tried to burn New York to the ground

America’s favorite Revolutionary War hero and first president had a little wish to, uh, checks notes, burn the city of New York to the ground and watch the flames dance in the tear-filled eyes of his enemies. Wait, can that be right?


New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Yup. Gen. George Washington himself wanted to burn one of America’s most populous and wealthy cities to the mud. But it wasn’t because he wanted the future city that would be named after him to have no rival in the Big Apple, it was actually a decent military strategy at the time (but would be a war crime now).

The proposed destruction was set for 1776 when Washington felt he could not hold the city. The Patriots had predicted that the British military, relying as it did on roads and ships, would sail down the Hudson and split the colonies. Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were all east of the river and would be isolated.

And, controlling New York Harbor would give the British a perfect staging ground for joint army-navy operations against New Jersey and the rebel capital in Philadelphia.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Washington moved the bulk of his forces from Boston to New York just in time for the Battle of Brooklyn in August of 1776. But, the Patriot forces still weren’t strong enough to beat back the British when the British were able to bring their full numbers and logistics advantage to bear.

The Battle of Long Island started Aug. 27, 1776, and was a catastrophe for America, and it nearly ended the war. Washington’s forces were outflanked multiple times, and it took a series of careful withdrawals for Washington to keep his men together and organized. He ended the main maneuvers with his back to the East River and the British arrayed in front of him in strength.

Washington was trapped with the bulk of his troops; easy pickings for the Redcoats. But a storm rolled in and made August 28-29 bad for fighting, and the British commander elected to wait. Washington managed to put together a small flotilla and escape on the water overnight. Washington himself floated out on the last boat, covered only by the mist as the sun slowly burned it off.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

The fog finally cleared and the British found themselves facing an empty battlefield. The Continental Army had escaped.

But New York was now open to the British, and they took it. Washington had asked for permission to burn it to prevent Britain from using it as “warm and comfortable barracks” in the winter of 1776-77, but it was too late. The Redcoats marched in.

Luckily for Washington, New York burned anyway. On the night of Sept. 19, a fire began in Harlem that would consume about a quarter of the city before it was successfully extinguished. It wasn’t as extensive as Washington may have wished, but it was more than enough to piss off the Brits.

The British suspected that Patriot agents were behind the fire. It wasn’t yet illegal to burn a civilian city to prevent its occupation by enemy forces, but it was still frowned upon. And the Redcoats wanted their justice.

British forces captured 100 suspects and hanged one, Nathaniel Hale, as a spy. It would turn out that Hale really was a spy for Washington, so they weren’t too far off the mark.

It can’t be known for sure that the city was burned by Washington’s agents or because of his wishes, but it did serve his purposes.

But, it didn’t stop the British advance. Washington’s men suffered a series of smaller defeats and lost two key forts in New York. But this series of failures is what led Washington to set out on Christmas 1776 to attack the Hessians at the battle of Trenton, salvaging Patriot morale right before thousands of enlistments expired.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The unbelievable way President Trump cut to the chase with Israel

President Donald Trump reportedly put a blunt question to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking if the leader of the Jewish state genuinely wanted peace.

Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported that, in a phone call with Netanyahu in 2017, Trump shocked his aides by getting straight to the point and pressing the Israeli leader on making a deal with Palestine.


The call followed Netanyahu’s approval of Israeli settlements outside the country’s borders, something which Trump reportedly thought would needlessly anger Palestinians.

“The President has an extremely close and candid relationship with the Prime Minister of Israel and appreciates his strong efforts to enhance the cause of peace in the face of numerous challenges,” the White House told Axios.

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

“The President has great relationships with a number of foreign leaders but that doesn’t mean he can’t be aggressive when it comes to negotiating what’s best for America,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added.

Trump has often discussed a “deal” to be had in the Israeli-Palestine conflict that has raged for decades, but made little tangible progress towards securing peace.

In December 2018, Trump went through with the longstanding US promise to recognize Jerusalem, the divided city that all three Abrahamic religions hold as a high holy site, as Israel’s capital in a move that angered Palestinians and many around the world.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of March 29th

Recently, a Marine was kicked out of a wedding for wearing his Dress Blues instead of a regular suit and tie. According to the post on Reddit, he was polite and gentlemanly but was asked to leave because he didn’t follow the dress code and the bride felt he was taking the spotlight away from the marriage.

There’s still a lot of other variables that aren’t really known that could really determine who’s the a**hole in this situation. If he was pulling a “you’re welcome for my service” routine, totally justified. If he didn’t have any other suit and tie, he could have probably explained that. If he was flexing his bare pizza box and two ribbons, he’s a douche. Since he was a friend of the groom, did he ask first? So on and so forth.

I’m personally of the mindset that he didn’t follow the uniform of the day and weddings are one of those things where you just nod and agree with the bride. But that’s ultimately pointless since this wedding has no bearing on my life.


Anyways. Since we in the U.S. aren’t subject to the EU’s Article 13 ruling on copyright material and the gray area it puts on sharing memes – have some memes!

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

Relax, it’s only a meme.

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Military Memes)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Private News Network)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Infatry Follow Me)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Uniform Humor)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via The Army’s F*ckups)

New VA appeals process is starting and it looks promising

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

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