Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

Wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics have gone down significantly from recent years and are now shorter on average than those in private-sector health care, at least in big cities, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Critics of the study pointed out that main contributors to the JAMA report were current and former VA executives, including Dr. David Shulkin, who was fired as VA secretary in 2018 by President Donald Trump.


In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the JAMA report published Jan. 18, 2019, showed that the VA “has made a concerted, transparent effort to improve access to care” since 2014, when wait-times scandals and doctored records led to the resignation of former VA Secretary and retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki.

“This study affirms that VA has made notable progress in improving access in primary care, and other key specialty care areas,” Wilkie said.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

The cross-sectional JAMA study of wait-time data from VA facilities and private-sector hospitals focused on primary care, dermatology, cardiology and orthopedics in 15 major metropolitan areas.

The findings were that “there was no statistically significant difference between private sector and VA mean wait times in 2014” and, in 2017, “mean wait times were statistically significantly shorter for the VA,” the JAMA report said.

“In 2014 the average wait time in VA hospitals was 22.5 days, compared with 18.7 in the private sector,” the study said, but in 2017, “mean wait time at VA hospitals had gone down to 17.7 days, while rising to 29.8 for private practitioners.”

The study, titled “Comparison of Wait Times for New Patients Between the Private Sector and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers,” relied on wait-time data provided by the VA and calculated private-sector data from a survey conducted by a physicians’ search firm, Merritt Hawkins, using the so-called “secret shopper” method in nearly 2,000 medical offices in metropolitan areas.

“For the secret shoppers method, the research associates at MH [Merritt Hawkins] called physicians’ offices asking to be told the first available time for a new-patient appointment,” the JAMA study said.

“This earliest availability was recorded as the wait time. However, the VA data record scheduled wait times, which may not reflect the earliest available appointment,” the study said.

The JAMA report also noted that rural areas and follow-on care were excluded from the analysis and said that “follow-up studies are critical to analyze access to the entirety of VA health care,” since nearly one-quarter of veterans live in rural areas.

The overall conclusion of the report was that “access to care within VA facilities appears to have improved between 2014 and 2017 and appears to have surpassed access in the private sector for 3 of the 4 specialties evaluated,” with the exception of orthopedics.

In 2014, the VA was rocked by wait-time scandals and allegations of manipulated data at the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona. “This incident damaged the VA’s credibility and created a public perception regarding the VA health care system’s inability to see patients in a timely manner,” the JAMA report said.

The VA has since worked to improve access and reduce wait times.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

“There is evidence suggesting that these efforts have improved access to care, including reports that 22% of VA patients are now seen on the same day as the requested appointment,” the report said. However, “Despite, these efforts, the adequacy of access to VA care remains unclear.”

As a result of the 2014 scandals, the VA initiated the Choice program to expand private-care options for veterans. Last year, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the VA Mission Act to consolidate and streamline the Choice program, which has been riddled with inefficiencies.

In June 2018, the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that many veterans who opted for the Choice program to avoid wait times still faced delays that could stretch for months before seeing a doctor.

In response to the JAMA report, a posting on the Disabled American Veterans website came under the heading: “Veterans Affairs Spins ‘JAMA Study’ It Authored On VA Wait Times.”

In addition to Shulkin, the posting noted that another contributor to the JAMA study was Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the former acting head of the Veterans Health Administration. She was replaced in July by Dr. Richard Stone as acting head of the VHA and has now taken the position at the VA of deputy under secretary for discovery, education and affiliate networks.

Stone, the former deputy surgeon general of the Army, has yet to receive Senate confirmation. The VHA has not had a permanent head since Shulkin left the position in January 2017 to become VA secretary.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia and US are having separate Taliban peace talks

As the prospect of a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan is closer than it has ever been, the peace process with the Taliban could be derailed by competing agendas.

Longtime rivals Russia and the United States have backed separate negotiations with different stakeholders, muddling the complex process.

To highlight the confusion, the Taliban first sat down for talks with American negotiators in Qatar before meeting a delegation of powerful Afghan power brokers in Moscow for “intra-Afghan” talks.


Why two simultaneous negotiating processes?

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held a series of direct talks with Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital, Doha, culminating in the basic framework of a possible peace deal.

Meanwhile, Moscow has organized two peace conferences — the latest on Feb. 5-6, 2019 — that have drawn representatives from Afghanistan’s neighbors, opposition politicians, and the same Taliban negotiators that met with the American delegation in Doha.

Taliban, Afghan Delegations Meet In Moscow

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Both processes have frozen out the Afghan government, which the Taliban has refused to meet. The militants see the Kabul government as a Western puppet and have said they will negotiate directly with Washington.

Analysts say Moscow is trying to promote itself as a power broker to challenge the U.S.-backed peace process.

Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul, says the Russian peace talks are fueled by “Russian political sniping against the [United States].”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Feb. 4, 2019, that the United States was trying to “monopolize” peace talks with the Taliban and was conducting talks in secrecy while keeping regional countries “in the dark.”

Haroun Mir, an Kabul-based political analyst, says it has been the Taliban’s strategy to have two simultaneous tracks for negotiations.

“The Taliban has insisted on negotiating first with the United States and then bypassing the Afghan government and initiating a dialogue with different Afghan political groups,” says Mir. “Thus far they have been successful in dividing the Afghan political elite who have supported the constitutional process in the past 18 years.”

What are the consequences of having two tracks?

Analysts say a major consequence is deepening divisions inside Afghanistan between President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and a host of powerful opposition politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Among those who attended the Moscow meetings were key power brokers who have announced their candidacy to run against Ghani in the July presidential election.

Ruttig says for Moscow not to include the Afghan government was an “affront” and has the strong feel of election campaigning and Russia taking sides.

“A united ‘Kabul camp’ would be better, but maybe this is an illusion anyway,” says Ruttig. “But [unity] was clearly not the desire of the Russian government: this is divide and interfere.”

Ghani is reportedly furious about his administration being left out of both the U.S. and Russian talks.

The president’s office criticized the meeting in Moscow, saying that Afghan politicians attending the gathering were doing so “in order to gain power.” Meanwhile, Kabul fears Washington will make a deal in Doha with the Taliban behind their back.

Analyst Mir says by keeping the Kabul government out of the U.S.- and Russia-backed talks the Taliban wants to “reduce the legitimacy of the Afghan government to a minimum and thus further strengthen [its] bargaining position vis-a-vis the United States and extract maximum advantage.”

Who are the likely winners and losers?

Graeme Smith, an Afghanistan analyst and a consultant for the International Crisis Group, says no one has won or lost because all of the actors have stakes in the outcome.

“If these talks give birth to an inclusive intra-Afghan process, the people of Afghanistan could finally gain relief from the world’s deadliest war,” says Smith. “If the talks fail to include all sides and no durable peace results [from them], the people could suffer another collapse into civil war.”

Sidelined and frustrated, the weak, deeply unpopular Afghan government may feel it is the biggest loser so far.

Mir says it’s not just the government that stands to lose, but “all of those who have defended the constitutional process for the past 18 years.”

Analysts say the talks have given Russia the chance to burnish perceptions of Moscow’s global significance while dealing a fresh blow to Western influence.

Ruttig says Moscow’s role is another assertion that it is “back in the strategic game.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

America has a secret missile covered in swords (and it actually makes war zones safer)

The most secretive parts of America’s defense apparatus have a missile covered in swords, and they’re using it to take out terrorists in Syria.

One significant change to warfare that’s come about in recent decades has been the advent of precision guided munitions and the resulting shift in the way America, and the world at large, sees collateral damage. During World War II, massive fleets of heavy bombers dotted the skies above Europe, laying waste to vast areas of territory in an effort to damage a nation’s industrial infrastructure and force submission.


Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

While there is still a use for this method of ordnance delivery, precision guided munitions have become the common platforms of choice for commanders in theater. (US Air Force Photo)

Thousands died in these large scale bombing campaigns, and today, many of those deaths would be considered unacceptable by the international community. Precision guided munitions with ever greater range and accuracy have replaced the carpet-bombing doctrine with the more cost effective and civilian friendly precision strike mindset. Today, collateral damage is not a thing of the past, but its metrics have shifted significantly. While carpet bombing raids may have killed hundreds or even thousands, the loss of a dozen civilian lives is now often considered too big a price to pay to engage many dangerous targets.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

All that remained of the German town of Wesel after allied bombing. (WikiMedia Commons)

This shift is undoubtedly a good thing from the macro perspective for humanity, but it raises a number of new challenges for America’s defense apparatus that’s tasked with engaging terrorists outside of America’s borders. It takes weeks, months, even years to gather all the necessary intelligence on a target before you might have an opportunity to take him out, and if the target is surrounded by civilians (as they tend to do for protection from air strikes), there’s a chance the U.S. military may miss its opportunity to strike.

That’s where the AGM-114R9X comes in. While it’s official name may be a mouthful, the missile itself utilizes a fairly simplistic approach to killing specific targets while minimizing the chances that anyone nearby will be hurt.

Twitter

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The AGM-114R9X is, at its most simplistic levels, a Hellfire missile with the explosive warhead removed from the center portion of its body. In the warhead’s place are six extendable blades that bear a striking resemblance to swords. As brutal as this method of engaging a target may seem, the use of this missile actually makes going after these high value targets significantly safer for the civilians in the area.

Rather than utilizing explosive force or shrapnel from the missile’s body to kill its target and anyone else in the vicinity, the AGM-114R9X deploys its six swords upon impact with a target. Each blade is approximately 18 inches long, giving the missile a “kill radius” of only about three feet. Couple that with the Hellfire missile’s extremely accurate targeting capabilities, and you have a weapon that can take out the bad guys without worrying about a large explosion that could potentially hurt others.

The weapon’s development began under the CIA during the Obama Administration, and to date, has only been used in combat a handful of times. In each of these instances, these precision weapons appear to have been employed by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, though it’s not entirely clear as to whether or not there is any overlap between CIA and JSOC operations in terms of leveraging the AGM-114R9X in combat.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

Charles Lister on Twitter

The “ninja sword” Hellfire missile saw a sharp uptick in press late last year after it was used twice in less than a week to kill different terrorists in Syria. The first strike took place on December 3, when an AGM-114R9X was used to engage the passenger seat specifically of a minivan in the Syrian city of Atmeh. The second took place somewhere between Afrin and Azaz, once again killing its target without injuring any bystanders. As pictures of the strikes and their aftermath hit social media, the U.S. government’s sword-wielding missile was introduced to the world, despite the general lack of formal acknowledgement from the Pentagon.

All told, this missile covered in swords is believed to have only seen use a half a dozen times, which coupled with the small amount of information released about the platform suggests that the missile is a limited production run that may be the result of modifying existing Hellfire platforms. Either that, or JSOC would just prefer to keep this secret close to the chest.

In any regard, it just got a little bit tougher to be a terrorist, and that’s always good news.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Should we change the name of Army bases named after Confederate generals?

With Confederate statues coming down across the nation, it’s time to ask: Should we change the name of Army bases named after Confederate Generals?

I think it’s a good discussion for us to have as a nation and an Army. When we can assess the problem and make rational decisions, I trust the Army leadership to make the best decision for our force and nation. We may not all agree on that or those decisions, but one of the greatest parts of America is civil discourse. It’s not difficult to see the pain these names may cause or why the current names don’t matter.


I’ve been to countries where they’ve torn down statues and changed names, erasing history without dialogue. There were many more significant issues, but none of those places have peace and prosperity. A statue or name change alone will not change society or bring a land of opportunity. When not done correctly, it divides people. However, this is an opportunity to do something right for the current and future generations.

We can have discussions and study our Civil War for years. There are a few undeniable conclusions. The Confederates attempted to succeed from the Union and the score was Union – 1, Confederates – 0. The Confederates implicitly or tacitly endorsed slavery of people based upon the color of their skin. We can learn from these difficult times in our nation’s history, so as not to repeat them. We should not honor these generals that fought against their country and therefore the right to own slaves.

In my 20-plus year military career, I never once cared about a base’s name, let alone whether the name of a general inspired me. What motivated me were the units that called those bases home. The famed 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, 10th Mountain Division and United States Army Special Forces — these and other storied units are what inspired me. We stand on the shoulders of giants. I’d read about these units in books and watched them in movies. The unit lineage is what mattered to me, and I’m willing to bet most of those I served with would agree.

I also didn’t care that they were named after famous generals. They didn’t inspire me or give me a sense of pride. Truthfully no generals, living or dead, ever inspired me. I had the privilege to work with some of the finest generals of our time. I have immense respect for these men and what I learned from them is invaluable. However, I wouldn’t say I was inspired. Why, you might ask? These generals are so removed from the fight that I find it hard to gain inspiration. Those that inspired me were leaders closer to us out conducting missions in the dirt, and my brothers and sisters that I served with.

I will not lose sleep if we change the names of our bases to Fort Tomato or Fort Pine Tree. I hope that we make these decisions with a thorough process. If Army leadership is considering such a process, I do have some excellent suggestions. Medal of Honor recipient, MSG Roy P. Benavidez, Fort Benavidez. Commander of the Tuskegee airmen, General Benjamin O. Davis, Fort Davis. The list of worthy American soldiers is much longer than the number of bases.

The truth is, we are hurting as a country. If this can help our nation heal, I’m all for it. It’s absurd not to have the discussion. Let’s reinvigorate patriotism and pride in our Army. We can run major marketing campaigns sharing the stories of these worthy soldiers. We can all be proud to say “I’m reporting to” or “served at” Fort (insert great American name).

I leave you with only one question: Will you be part of the discussion with me?

MIGHTY TRENDING

The F-22 conducted its first ever airstrike in Afghanistan

The Lockheed F-22 Raptor has seen some action over Syria – but now it can also add Afghanistan to the places where it has fought. The fifth-generation fighter made its combat debut against the Taliban on Nov. 20.


According to a report by the Aviationist, the Raptors took part in strikes against Taliban-operated drug labs that produced opium. Opium can then be refined into heroin, which is worth $200 a gram in the United States.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
A F-22 Raptors from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., fly off the wing of a KC-135 Stratotanker on their way to Iraq, Jan. 30 2015. The F-22s are supporting the U.S. lead coalition against Da’esh. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston/Released)

A release by Operation Resolute Support headquarters noted that the F-22s were selected due to their ability to use the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, or SDB. The release noted that the reduction of collateral damage was a consideration in the selection of the F-22 to carry out the attack.

According to Designation-Systems.net, the GBU-39 comes in at 285 pounds, has a 250-pound blast-fragmentation warhead, and a range of over 60 nautical miles. A F-22 Raptor can carry up to eight in its internal weapons bays. Improved versions, like the GBU-40 and GBU-53 add multi-mode seekers to engage moving targets.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
Staff Sgt. Randy Broome signals a jammer operator to move a Bomb Rack Unit 61 forward, while loading it onto an F-15E Strike Eagle at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on Aug. 1. The NCO is an aircraft weapons specialist with the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

The F-22 strikes come in the wake of President Trump’s new strategy on Afghanistan. As part of the new strategy, rules of engagement were loosened. Prior to the announcement of the new strategy, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb made its combat debut when it was used against a tunnel system.

The war in Afghanistan has also seen the employment of a very old aircraft. During Operation Enduring Freedom, NASA used a version of the B-57 Canberra over the combat theater.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Border troops will not receive hazard pay

More than 5,000 troops stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border will not receive additional compensation for working in a dangerous environment, known as “danger pay,” a Pentagon official said on Nov. 6, 2018.

Army Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said troops do not qualify for the special pay unless they are on duty “in foreign areas, designated as such because of wartime conditions, civil war, civil insurrection, or terrorism.”


“Members who are deployed in support of the Department of Homeland Security’s border mission are not eligible for imminent-danger pay,” he said in a statement on Nov. 5, 2018.

Nor will troops receive hostile-fire pay, which is given to service members in close proximity to a firefight or exposed to a barrage of fire from an enemy combatant. The border mission is considered non-combative, Manning said.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

“Our military will not receive combat pay or hostile-fire pay as they are not deploying to a combat area, nor are they expected to be subject to hostile fire,” he said, adding that they will be eligible for a separation allowance.

“Members with dependents, including those in support of the border mission, who are deployed away from their dependents (and their permanent duty station) for more than 30 days, are eligible to receive family separation allowance retroactive back to the first day of the separation at the rate of 0 per month,” Manning continued.

President Donald Trump tweeted that the caravan of migrants traveling toward the U.S. border could be taken down by lethal force.

“The Caravans are made up of some very tough fighters and people,” he tweeted Oct. 31, 2018. “Fought back hard and viciously against Mexico at Northern Border before breaking through. Mexican soldiers hurt, were unable or unwilling to stop Caravan.”

The next day, he said troops should take action if the migrants threw rocks at them.

“We’re not going to put up with that,” Trump said during a White House press conference. “[If] they want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We’re going to consider it — and I told them, ‘consider that a rifle.’ When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say ‘consider it a rifle.’ “

He revisited his remarks, saying he never said U.S. forces would shoot migrants.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

“What I don’t want is these people throwing rocks. … What they did to the Mexican military is a disgrace,” Trump said. “They hit them with rocks. Some were very seriously injured, and they were throwing rocks in their face. They do that with us, they’re going to be arrested, there are going to be problems. I didn’t say shoot.”

Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, reaffirmed that “everything that we are doing is in line with and adherence to Posse Comitatus,” a congressional act dating to 1878 prohibiting the military from participating in domestic law-enforcement activities.

Trump has said he could request a deployment of as many as 15,000 troops to the border in support of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Manning on Nov. 5, 2018, told reporters that troops would not patrol with CPB and are there in a mission-support role only.

“There is no plan for DoD personnel to interact with migrants or protesters,” he said, as reported by Military Times. “We are absolutely in support of [Customs and Border Patrol].”

The Pentagon in November 2018 announced it would deploy roughly 5,200 active-duty troops to support the mission in Texas, Arizona and California, dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot.

The units include military police, communications and logistics support, medical personnel, combat engineers, planners, an assault helicopter battalion, and public affairs specialists.

That number could reach 7,000 in weeks to come, The Associated Press reported.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The reason Robert Mueller volunteered to fight in Vietnam

Robert Swan Mueller III is perhaps best known as the former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is now responsible for the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.


But before he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the position of FBI Director, Mueller served as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War. As the Washington Post attested, Mueller’s service was brief but remarkable. He studied politics at Princeton University, where he met lacrosse teammate, David Spencer Hackett, who would be killed by enemy fire in Quang Tri Province on April 30, 1967.

Also read: 24 photos that show the honor and loyalty of the Marine Corps

Mueller has cited Hackett’s death as his motivation for joining the Marines.

“One would have thought that the life of a Marine, and David’s death in Vietnam, would argue strongly against following in his footsteps,” Mueller said in a speech for the College of William and Mary’s May 2013 commencement ceremony.  

“But many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be, even before his death. He was a leader and a role model on the fields of Princeton. He was a leader and a role model on the fields of battle as well. And a number of his friends and teammates joined the Marine Corps because of him, as did I.”

Mueller applied for Officer Candidate School and would train at Parris Island, Army Ranger School, and Army Airborne School. As a Marine, Mueller’s attendance in elite Army training was a testament to his proficiency — the positions were highly competitive and reserved for the best.

Mueller deployed to Vietnam with H Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, a unit that was decorated for two particularly intense battles. In December 1968, Mueller, then a 2nd lieutenant, would receive the Bronze Star Medal with the “V Device” for his valor during combat.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
2nd Lt. Robert S. Mueller III’s Bronze Star citation obtained by The Washington Post.

According to his citation, Mueller was the lead element in a patrol that fell under attack when he “skillfully supervised the evacuation of casualties from the hazardous area and… personally led a fire team across the fire-swept terrain to recover a mortally wounded Marine who had fallen.”

Vietnam War: Now you can read about every single fallen troop from the Vietnam War

In April 1969, Mueller was shot in the thigh during an ambush, but maintained his position and ensured fire superiority over the enemy and defeated the hostile forces. For his actions that day, he received the Purple Heart and a Navy Commendation Medal for valor. He remained in Vietnam despite his wounds, however, and continued to serve after his recovery.

Mueller separated as a captain in 1970, and would be inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 2004, where he was credited with leading the FBI “through the dramatic transformation required in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.” 

“I do consider myself fortunate to have survived my tour in Vietnam. There were many – men such as David Hackett – who did not. And perhaps because of that, I have always felt compelled to try to give back in some way,” Mueller said in his 2013 commencement speech. “The lessons I learned as a Marine have stayed with me for more than 40 years. The value of teamwork, sacrifice, and discipline – life lessons I could not have learned in quite the same way elsewhere.”
MIGHTY CULTURE

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

In 2007 I was a fresh-out-to-pasture journalist, trying not to lose my sanity as an Army wife and stay at home mom. I had worked most recently as a reporter for The Fayetteville Observer, but my husband, a Special Forces soldier, kept getting deployed. We couldn’t afford a nanny, and no daycare in town stayed open late enough to watch our son until I could get off work.


The Observer offered me an opportunity to write a blog and two weekly columns from home, and that’s how I came to meet Mike Giglio, a fresh-out-of-college writer for Charlotte Magazine, working on a story about military families at Ft. Bragg.

Giglio has written a book now, “Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate” – an open wound of a book, as raw and bleeding as the conflict itself.

But back in 2007, he came to my house, sat in my living room, made the requisite comments about the adorableness of my toddler, and interviewed me. He has since told me that I was the first person he had interviewed about war. He has interviewed many, many more people since. He wrote then:

Rebekah Sanderlin looks like an Army wife from a movie: the hero pulls out her picture in the opening scene, she has dark hair, engaging eyes, and a warm smile, she’s holding his kid, and you’re already hoping he makes it out of this thing alive.

12 years and as many deployments later, my husband and I are still married and, indeed, he appears to have made it out of this thing alive.

I followed Giglio’s career from a distance after that, watching as his byline hopped up to the big leagues and then across the ocean, first to London and then to Istanbul, and then right into the heart of war.

Now a journalist for The Atlantic, he spent four years living in Turkey and Syria, interviewing members of the Islamic State, their enablers, and legions of others who were pushing back against ISIS’ terror quest for power, embedding with U.S. military units as well as low-level groups of resistance fighters.
Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

(The Atlantic)

His book is part memoir, part chronicle. We see the early movements of ISIS in the form of sources and scoops that grow into defeats and victories. He is unflinching in the descriptions but avoids the war-porn tendencies lesser writers find irresistible. There are no heroes and no villains, only humans showing up, day after day. Characters come and go, lost to war and the swirling chaos of life. There are no neat and tidy endings. This is news – news never ends.

His sparse, direct, writing style is appropriately like chewing on broken glass. A book about ISIS shouldn’t be overwrought. There’s too much gore, too much horror, too much human misery, for a writer in love with adjectives. No one needs those adjectives.

Of an Iraqi Special Forces soldier, he writes:

“So when militiamen kidnapped Ahmed from a checkpoint in Baghdad one day, they didn’t just torture him. They put a circular saw to his forehead and tried to peel off his face. Then they put a hood over his head, shot him five times, and tossed his body in a garbage dump, thinking he was dead. Ahmed survived, though, and was found by an elderly man, who carried him to a hospital. When he recovered, he had gained his nickname – The Bullet, for what couldn’t kill him – and he returned to his turret.

These are not pages to read before bed.

Giglio is captured and nearly executed, and he survives being hit by a suicide bomber. He sets these encounters on the table, like an indifferent dinner party host, as if to say, “Here it is. Make of it what you will.” And, of course, there is only one thing to make of it: ISIS is even worse than you thought.

I read Mike’s book during the vacant, pedestrian, moments of my mom-life. Sitting in my daughter’s gymnastics class, reading about the young Syrian mother who watched helplessly as a wall collapsed on all four of her children during a bombing. In the front seat of my minivan, parked at the high school, waiting for that once-toddler-now-teenager, reading about a man whose seven siblings were all killed by ISIS. Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room while a friend’s wrist was being x-rayed, reading about ISIS fighters gathering body parts from numerous people into one duffel bag, only to leave the bag in the middle of a street.

I read about Mike, being zip-tied and beaten by a jeering mob in Egypt, before being thrown into a prison bus and carted to a sports arena, where sham trials and public executions were being held for political prisoners. And then the zip ties are cut from his wrists and he is inexplicably released. I think about the cub reporter I first met in my North Carolina living room, as eager for adventure as any young soldier.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

He is in Iraq, embedded with a battalion from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force (ICTF) in Mosul when the results of the 2016 election are announced, and Americans of all political persuasions are melting down. He writes:

“I wondered if, when a country was at war for so long but only a select few ever waged it, the rest of society began to go a certain kind of crazy. Some played at civil war while others vowed to flee to Canada as political refugees, and too many Americans seemed to want to pull a bit of conflict into their lives just when so many people around the world were risking everything to escape from it.”

And then he finally escapes it himself, perhaps for good, writing this about then-new President Trump’s premature declaration of victory over ISIS: “As in the past, America was looking to move on from the region before the war was really over – leaving much of Iraq and Syria in ruins and ISIS still a threat. This was an impulse I embodied, too. As Colonel Arkan had once explained, the thing about going to war far from home is that you can always walk away from it.”

If you’re lucky, Mike. Only the lucky get to walk away.

Articles

The Air Force is running out of pilots

While the Air Force has gotten the F-35A to its initial operating capability, the service is having a ton of other problems — problems that could place the ability of the United States to control the air in doubt.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the service is short by about 700 pilots and 4,000 mechanics. This is not a small issue. A shortage of well-trained pilots can be costly.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
F-16s fly beside a KC-135 during a refueling mission over Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry)

In World War II, the United States had a strict policy of rotating experienced pilots back to the states. This is why John Thach, the inventor of the Thach Weave, had only seven kills in World War II, according to Air University’s ace pilots list.

He was sent back to train the pilots needed to fly the hundreds of F6F Hellcats and F4U Corsairs. By contrast, Japan kept pilots on the front line until they were shot down or badly wounded. It cost them experience.

Maintenance personnel also matter. A fighter on the flight line does no good if it can’t fly, and the mechanics are the folks who keep it functional. The thing is, no mechanic — no matter how good he or she is — can fix two planes at once.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
Senior Airman Clay Thomas, a 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member, loosens paneling screws from an A-10C at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Oct. 24, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ashley N. Steffen)

So why is the United States Air Force facing this much of a shortage? An Air Force release notes that the decline took place over the last ten years, but was exacerbated by the sequestration cuts of 2011.

“The risk of manpower shortage is masked and placed on the backs of Airmen,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in that release. “Because if you go back and look at the data and the way we measure readiness, did we taxi? Yes. Did we launch? Yes. Did we make the deployed destination and accomplish the mission? Yes.”

But accomplishing the mission came at a price, Goldfein explained. “What’s masked is the fact that the shortage of people has fundamentally changed the way we do business in terms of the operational risk day to day.”

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
Airman 1st Class Zachary Bradley (left) and Airman Joseph Glenn, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance apprentices, remove leading edge tape prior to painting an F-16CM at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Dec. 14, 2016. Leading edge tape serves as a repellent against rain and prevents the F-16’s wing edges and tail flaps from rusting and corroding. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

When asked for a comment by the writer, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness said,

“I’m not aware of an official survey to confirm what may be going on, but it appears that the mystique of being an [Air Force] pilot has been eroded by a combination of budget cuts and social agendas; e.g., Air Force Secretary Deborah James’ Diversity Initiative Fact Sheet. Mandates such as this clearly indicate that qualifications and high standards are not very important, and certain types of applicants need not apply.”

Donnelly also pointed to aircraft readiness issues in the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the many aging airframes in the U.S. inventory.

Also of note – FoxNews.com noted that in 1991, the Air Force had 134 fighter squadrons. Today, there are only 55, marking a reduction of 59% in the number of fighter squadrons.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The troublesome history of Zimbabwe’s dead dictator

If you were surprised to see some of the tearful farewells from those worst affected by the lifelong policies of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, you aren’t alone. Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years after helping free the country from British colonial rule. Mugabe was very much the central figure in then-Rhodesia’s struggle for freedom.

The African world rejoiced at his success, and then watched him plunge the country into every economic and human rights disaster there is.


At the end of the 1970s, African colonialism was taking its dying breaths. Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, was one of the last remnants of the African colonial era, where the minority white population ruled over the majority black population with an iron fist. The struggle to correct this resulted in the 15-year Rhodesian Bush War that saw thousands of Zimbabweans die at the hands of Rhodesian armed forces. The central figure to emerge from that struggle was Robert Mugabe, a charismatic freedom fighter and former college professor who idolized Mohandas Gandhi who started his firebrand career giving speeches in his home country.

After spending years in prison for sedition in Rhodesia, he left for neighboring Mozambique to join the militant wing of the struggle for freedom, the Zimbabwe African National Union. After the leaders of ZANU were assassinated by the Rhodesian government, Mugabe quickly rose to the top of its ranks. Rhodesia soon realized the writing on the wall, as Mugabe and other groups sent more insurgents into Rhodesia faster than the Rhodesians could kill or capture them. In the election that followed the political stalemate, Mugabe was victorious and became Prime Minister in 1980.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

Mugabe with Joshua Nkomo at the Constitutional Conference on the future of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia at Lancaster House in London.

He renamed the country Zimbabwe and the capital Harare. He also expanded educational opportunities to most of the population. In 1987, he and his ZANU-PF party amended the Zimbabwean constitution and installed himself as Executive President, a new position he made for himself while his one-party dominated the Parliament. Mugabe became just one more African strongman. Mugabe betrayed his own revolution.

Although he was an educated man, he was not fit to rule an entire country on his own. After sending military forces into the countryside to root out dissent, Zimbabwe found itself deeply in debt and a mineral sector in virtual collapse. The value of its currency began to drop, and Mugabe began to exploit the ethnic differences in his country to stay in power, a textbook dictatorship move. The wealthy and educated began to flee the country, and by 2000 the economy was in freefall. Hyperinflation became synonymous with the Zimbabwean dollar. He created a repressive police state in order to stay in power, while stripping the rights of everyone, not just white farmers.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

Mugabe died in Singapore on Sept. 6, 2019. He was 95. He will still be buried in the country he fought to loot for 37 years.

Even after the total collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, widespread corruption, and Mugabe’s brutal suppression of all opposition, Mugabe remained in power. He and his inner circle of cronies stole the revenues from the country’s mineral wealth while stealing elections and killing the opposition. Finally, after 30-plus years of brutality, Western powers slapped sanctions on him, the country, and anyone caught doing business with Zimbabwe. Yet only after he began to groom his second wife, Grace, to take his position after he died, did Zimbabweans organize his ouster. When he died, he was still working to undermine the government in Harare that had succeeded him.

So while Robert Mugabe was an undisputed liberating force for so many black Rhodesians-turned-Zimbabweans, along with those affected by the subsequent anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements that came after his success, he was also responsible for 37 years of pillaging the country he fought to liberate.

Articles

Trump picks controversial general for National Security Advisor post

President-elect Donald Trump named three members of his national-security team Nov. 18, including his pick for Attorney General, CIA director and National Security Advisor.


Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn previously led the Defense Intelligence Agency. He retired after political backlash from his harsh criticism of the Obama administration’s war on terrorism. (Photo from Defense Department)

According to multiple media reports, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was selected to be Trump’s National Security Advisor, while Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions was chosen for the Attorney General slot.

Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was asked to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was picked to head the Central Intelligence Agency. (Official congressional portrait)

Flynn, who had been a strong supporter of Trump on the campaign train and was a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, served in a number of posts during his Army career. He took part in Operations Urgent Fury and Restore Democracy, then served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan prior to taking charge of the DIA.

Flynn’s service decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Bronze Star with three oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Service medal with five oak leaf clusters, and the Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters.

Flynn’s tenure as DIA director was marked by controversy, leading him to retire in August 2014.

Representative Pompeo was first elected to Congress in 2010 and was re-elected to his fourth term in 2016. Prior to entering Congress, Pompeo served for five years in the United States Army, reaching the rank of captain, then went to Harvard Law School before founding an aerospace firm and becoming president of an oilfield equipment company.

Pompeo has been an advocate of a hard line with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Pompeo has served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Senator Sessions is in his fourth term, having first been elected in 1996. Prior to his election, he served as a United States Attorney for 12 years.

During his service as a U.S. Attorney, his 1986 nomination as a federal judge was derailed. Sessions later ran for Attorney General of Alabama serving two years before winning his seat in the U.S. Senate.

While best known for his tough positions on illegal immigration and border security, Sessions was the sponsor of the HEROES Act of 2005, which boosted the death gratuity benefit to $100,000, and upped Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance coverage to $400,000. The legislation became law later that year.

Sessions served on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Senate Committee on the Budget, and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Sessions also served in the Army Reserve from 1973-1977, reaching the rank of captain.

Both Flynn and Sessions had been reportedly under consideration to serve as Secretary of Defense in a Trump administration. Had Flynn been nominated for that post, he would have needed a special exemption from rules mandating civilian leadership of the Pentagon.

Articles

This is how a US destroyer dodged 2 missiles off the Yemen coast

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) was targeted by two missiles believed to have been fired by Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen Oct. 9. Both missiles missed the 9,200-ton vessel and landed harmlessly in the waters of the Red Sea.


The latest near miss comes eight days after HSV-2 Swift was attacked and hit by at least two RPGs. The U.S. Navy reported that the Mason used “onboard defensive measures” as soon as the first missile was launched.

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics
The Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) was targeted by two missiles fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Alexander Delgado/Released)

While the Mason carries a variety of weapons to address incoming aircraft and missiles — including the RIM-66 SM-2 Standard Missile, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), the Mk 45 Mod 4 5-inch gun, and the Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS), which take out the incoming aerial threats physically, or achieving a “hard kill” — the Navy says the ship used so-called “soft kill” systems to avoid a hit.

Soft kill systems work by fooling the inbound threat and getting it to hit where the targeted vessel isn’t.

The Mason has two such spoofing systems on board, the AN/SLQ-32 electronic countermeasures suite, and the Mk 36 Super RBOC chaff system. The AN/SLQ-32 electronic countermeasures suite is on virtually every Navy surface ship. The system works by jamming radar seekers of anti-ship missiles, causing them to either pursue phantom targets or by reducing the effective range of the seeker, enabling the ship to evade the missile.

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The Mk 36 Super RBOC system usually works with the AN/SLQ-32, and works by firing rockets that dispense chaff (essentially aluminum foil), creating false targets to confuse the seeker of an incoming missile. These “foil packets,” to use Chappy Sinclair’s term from the original Iron Eagle, were first used in World War II to confuse German radar.

Chaff was heavily used by the Royal Navy during the Falklands War. In one incident, a British frigate successfully decoyed a missile using chaff, but the missile then locked on to the Atlantic Conveyor, sinking the merchant vessel, which was carrying helicopters to reinforce the British forces trying to re-take the Falklands from Argentina.

The Mason was one of three vessels sent to assist HSV-2 Swift after the 1 October attack that damaged the vessel and started fires. Houthi rebels, surrogates for the Iranian regime, claimed to have sunk the vessel. Iran has been known to export anti-ship missiles like the Noor (a knock-off of the C-802 anti-ship missile). One exported missile damaged the Israeli corvette Hanit during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Yemen has been a risky place for U.S. vessels in the past. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Cole was damaged while refueling in Aden in October 2000. Despite having a 40×60-foot hole punched in her hull, the Cole returned to active service.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Gerard Butler totally gets why troops hate military movie mistakes

There’s nothing more irritating to troops and veterans than sitting down and watching a military film only to be distracted by inaccuracies. We’re not just talking about uniform infractions or other minor goofs — everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, however, the scripts are just so fundamentally flawed that us veterans can’t help but start chucking things at the screen.

Thankfully, for every stinker that insists on ignoring the on-set military advisor, there’s a great film that gets it right.

The team here at We Are The Mighty recently got a chance to sit down with Gerard Butler, star and producer of the film Hunter Killer, to discuss the production crew’s commitment to portraying the lives of U.S. sailors as accurately as possible in the upcoming thriller.


Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

The wardrobe department pulled off some outstanding attention to detail. From the bottom of our hearts at We Are The Mighty, BZ, ‘Hunter Killer’ wardrobe department! BZ!

(Summit Entertainment)

There really isn’t any better way for filmmakers to faithfully capture the essence of military life than by deferring to those who serve — and that’s exactly what Gerard Butler and the crew of Hunter Killer did throughout pre-production and rehearsal.

Butler spent three days aboard a real Virginia-class submarine, carefully watching every detail and nuance of actual submariner life to better tell their story. Even the tiny details — like the order in which commands are given — were analyzed, written down, and implemented when it came time to shoot. And when they put theory into practice, the authenticity was immediately apparent.

That extra step helped put all the actors into the frame of mind they needed to truly portray submariners in the heat of combat. Butler told us,

“We actually wrote [the details of submariner life] into the script and we realized it was a whole other character in the story. And when we started — the difference that it made!”

Butler knows full-well that the devil’s in the details when it comes to military movies. He told us about his time aboard the USS Houston, when he sat down to watch a much-beloved naval film with the sailors. It was the eye-opener to say the least.

“When I sat to watch… with the submarine crew, and they’re all like taking ownership of the movie and they’re like, ‘that’s bullsh*t!’ while the captain is like, ‘That’s sh*t! You think that’s good, but that’s bullsh*t! He’d never wear that hat! What are those stripes? He wouldn’t say that!'”

Needless to say, Butler and the rest of the Hunter Killer crew recognized how important these details are for us and our community.

Be sure to check out Hunter Killer when it’s released on October 26th.