It’s not the Razzle Dazzle from Stripes, but it might as well be. Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro thinks his country is staring down the barrel of an upcoming U.S.-led invasion. The only problem is that no one in the American government really seems to care about Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro. He’s just a trash version of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez – who wasn’t that great of a dictator anyway.
Still, the military members still loyal to Maduro somehow believe him when he says they can defeat the United States. And apparently, the first step is (attempted) intimidation of the United States Marine Corps. IT did not have the effect Maduro hoped.
To answer the questions on everyone’s mind, it’s not a joke, and the video was really intended to frighten U.S. Marines who might be going into Venezuela, according to the Facebook page on which the video was released. They call parts of the video “intense training activities.” The activities include running, running in place, screaming, and the world’s worst obstacle course.
Of course, even the casual viewer is going to find this hilarious, knowing it wouldn’t even intimidate the Air Force, let alone the Marine Corps. When the shooting started, there didn’t seem to be magazines in their weapons.
What the training didn’t include was how to run from an A-10, how to survive a JDAM, and what to do when a K-Bar is stuck in your neck.
Don’t worry, Venezuela, we will bring the answer to those questions for you.
US defense secretary Jim Mattis said August 14 “all options — from withdrawal, to using private contractors, to adding thousands of US forces to the fight — remain on the table for Afghanistan.”
Mattis repeated the White House and Pentagon were ‘very close’ to finalizing a new strategy to present to President Trump.
Mattis, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster have worked for months to craft strategy options for President Donald Trump.
Mattis said both withdrawal and a private contracted force were still under consideration. “The strategic decisions have not been made,” Mattis said. “It’s part of the options being considered.”
Military Times previously reported on Trump supporter and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince’s efforts to outsource the now 16-year Afghan war to private contractors, including offering a privatized air force for Afghanistan.
Military Times also reported that Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US Forces-Afghanistan, has refused to meet with Prince. It is not clear whether that refusal has frustrated Trump.
According to NBC News, Trump has asked both Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford to replace Nicholson as the top US general in Afghanistan. due to the president’s frustration with how that campaign is going.
On August 14, Mattis defended Nicholson, saying he “of course” supports him. But Mattis could not say whether the White House similarly supported him.
Gen. John Nicholson. (Dept. of Defense photo)
“Ask the president,” Mattis said. “[Nicholson] has the confidence of NATO. He has the confidence of the United States.”
The new strategy for Afghanistan was expected about a month ago. Mattis said he was still confident a decision was close.
“We are sharpening each of the options so you can see the pluses and minuses of each one so that there’s no longer any new data you are going to get, now just make the decision.”
Tens of thousands of NATO troops have converged on Norway for Trident Juncture, the alliance’s largest military exercise in nearly two decades.
The exercise officially starts on Oct. 25, 2018, but the arrival of thousands of troops and their equipment in the harsh environs of the North Atlantic and Scandinavia hasn’t gone totally smoothly.
On Oct. 23, 2018, four US soldiers were injured in a roadway accident as they delivered cargo to Kongens Gruve, Norway, in support of the exercise.
“The accident occurred when three vehicles collided and a fourth vehicle slid off the pavement and overturned while trying to avoid the three vehicles that had collided,” the US Joint Information Center said, according to Reuters.
One of the soldiers was released shortly after being hospitalized, and as of late Oct. 23, 2018, the three others were in stable condition but still under observation, according to the information center. The troops and their trucks were assigned to the Army’s 51st Composite Truck Company, stationed in Baumholder, Germany.
A US Army Stryker vehicle completes an uncontested wet-gap crossing near Chełmno, Poland, June 2, 2018.
(US Army photo by 1st Lt. Ellen Brabo)
US ships taking part have also encountered trouble.
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall, part of a group of ships carrying a Marine Corps contingent to the exercise, returned to port in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Oct. 22, 2018, after heavy seas caused damage to the ship and injuries to its sailors.
The US 6th Fleet, which oversees operations in the Atlantic around Europe, said the ship’s well deck and several of the landing craft aboard it were damaged. The Gunston Hall returned to port for a damage assessment, though there was no timetable for its completion, the fleet said.
The sailors who were injured received medical treatment and returned to duty.
A landing craft enters the well deck of the USS Gunston Hall to embark for Trident Juncture 2018, Oct. 3, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Colbey Livingston)
The amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, also on hand for the exercise, also returned to Reykjavik “as a safe haven from the seas until further notice,” the fleet said.
A 6th Fleet spokesman told Navy Times that the seas were challenging “but not out of the [Gunston Hall’s] limits” and that the USS New York “will remain in port until it is safe to get underway.”
The Gunston Hall and the New York were part of a group led by the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima that left the US in October 2018, carrying some 4,000 sailors and Marines.
US Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit hike to a cold-weather training site in Iceland, Oct. 19, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo)
It’s not clear if the absence of the Gunston Hall and the New York will affect the exercise, the 6th Fleet spokesman told Navy Times.
Trident Juncture will include some 50,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, and other personnel from each of NATO’s 29 members as well as Sweden and Finland. The drills will be spread across Scandinavia and the waters and airspace of the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic.
Massing men and machines for such exercises rarely goes off without problems.
The world is less peaceful than at any point in the past 10 years as the number of refugees worldwide reached the highest level in modern history, according to a new report.
The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 12th annual Global Peace Index on June 6, 2018, which ranks 163 independent states and territories on their level of peacefulness.
The study looks at three factors to measure the state of peace in a state or territory: safety and security in society, extent of ongoing domestic or international conflict, and the degree of militarization.
The research found the world became 0.27% less peaceful over the course of 2017, which marked the fourth consecutive year global peace declined. Overall, 92 countries became less peaceful while 71 saw improvement over the past year.
Steve Killelea, the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, told Bloomberg, “Increased numbers of refugees, terrorism, and heightened political tensions were behind the deterioration.”
“Refugees on their own would make one of the world’s biggest nations,” Killelea added.
Refugees now account for about 1% of the global population. There are approximately 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including roughly 22.5 million refugees, according the UN’s refugee agency.
2018’s Global Peace Index also found the US became less peaceful in the last year and ranked 121st overall. Comparatively, it ranked at 114th in 2017 and 103rd in 2016.
According to the study, the five most peaceful countries in the world are Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark. Meanwhile, the five least peaceful countries in the world are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia.
The economic cost of the decline in peace across the world was estimated to be roughly $14.8 trillion in 2017, the report found, which is equivalent to 12.4% of the world’s economic activity or roughly $2,000 for every person.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The mysterious plane hijacker known as “D.B. Cooper,” who has eluded authorities for more than 45 years, was an ex-military paratrooper from Michigan who boasted about the daring heist to a friend, a publisher plans to reveal May 17, 2018.
Michigan publisher Principa Media says Cooper was former military paratrooper and intelligence operative Walter R. Reca, and Principa worked with Reca’s best friend, Carl Laurin, in compiling the evidence. While the publisher did not disclose if Reca was still alive, an obituary online lists Reca, of Oscada, Mich., as having died in 2014 at the age of 80.
“Evidence, including almost-daily discussions over a 14-year period and 3+ hours of audio recordings featuring the skyjacker, was compiled by Reca’s best friend. It was then analyzed by a Certified Fraud Examiner and forensic linguist,” the publisher said in a news release. “The audio recordings, created in 2008, include Reca discussing skyjacking details that were not known to the public prior to the FBI’s information release in 2015.”
The publishing company worked with Laurin for the memoir “D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend,” and plans to present evidence at a press conference on Thursday in Grand Rapids linking the crime to Reca. Evidence includes:
Witness testimony from an individual who spoke with Reca within an hour of his jump
Documentation concerning how the $200,000 in stolen cash was spent
Confessions from Reca to two individuals at two different times
An article of clothing Reca wore during the jump
In 1971, on the night before Thanksgiving, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, wearing a black tie and a suit, boarded a Seattle-bound Boeing 727 in Oregon and told a flight attendant he had a bomb in a briefcase. He gave her a note demanding ransom. After the plane landed he released the 36 passengers in exchange for $200,000 in ransom money and parachutes. The ransom was paid in $20 bills.
The hijacker then ordered the plane to fly to Mexico, but near the Washington-Oregon border he jumped and was never seen or heard from again.
In one of the audio recordings provided by the publishing company, Laurin is heard asking Reca about how he felt going through life knowing he was D.B. Cooper and if he ever had second thoughts about the heist.
“Never even a second thought,” Reca says.
After the heist, Reca said he put the money in the bank, and that he had “family to take care of” before jobs “overseas” came up. The daredevil said he treated it as any bank heist.
“It was no [big] deal really, it was done,” Reca is heard saying. “It was done, and I lived through it.”
After the skyjacking, Reca later became a high-level covert intelligence operative, according to the publishing company.
Reca possessed skills to survive jumping out of the plane because he was on the Michigan Parachute Team, according to the publisher. He attended the team reunion in 2000 and was pictured in a photo released by the publisher.
Despite the claims of the publishing company, the FBI has never ruled out the possibility that the hijacker was killed in the jump — which took place during a rainstorm at night, over rough, wooded terrain. The hijacker’s clothing and footwear were also unsuitable for a rough landing.
Over the years the most lasting image of Cooper, who became somewhat of a legend, may be the two sketches the FBI released of the suspect.
Many investigators have come forward with their theories for who the infamous hijacker may be. In early 2018, the leader of the private investigative team who has spent years trying to crack the D.B. Cooper hijacking case claimed he believes the mysterious criminal was a CIA operative whose identity has been covered up by federal agents.
Thomas Colbert, a documentary filmmaker who helped put together the 40-member team, said in January 2018, his team made the connection from work a code breaker uncovered in each of the five letters allegedly sent by Cooper.
Since January 2018, the FBI has released more than 3,000 documents to Colbert’s team investigating the hijacking. The FBI said in court papers that it has more than 71,000 documents that may be responsive to Colbert’s lawsuit.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
A Ukranian website posted several screenshots from Russian job listing websites offering high-paid but vague jobs for those willing to work on “security” projects abroad, and reported that such listings have spiked sharply in February 2018, when the battle took place.
The ads seek recruits with good physical fitness who can go on “business trips” to Ukraine or Syria for about three months. Russia stands accused of sending “little green men” or military contractors without proper Russian military uniforms or affiliation, to wage war in those two countries.
Multiple reports state that Russia’s reason for using military contractors in Syria, where it is fighting against insurgents who oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad, is to conceal the true cost of the war to Russian servicemen.
But the conditions for the contractors are reportedly bleak. Hundreds of Russian mercenaries were reportedly routed in a battle with US airpower, against which they were defenseless. Alleged leaked audio from Russian paramilitary commanders captures them lamenting the unwise battle, and expressing humiliation at their sound defeat.
Russian officials admit to only a few Russian nationals dying in battles, and several dozen wounded, but all other reporting of the battle portrays severe losses for the pro-government side, which many say was mostly Russian.
A Russian paramilitary official recently told France24 that he had 150 men in freezers in Syria as “minced meat,” and that their mortal remains won’t even be returned to their family until after Russia’s presidential election in March 2018. The official, however, said that now Russian men were volunteering not for money, but for revenge.
The tough talk coming out of the Kremlin has been increasingly more provocative in the days since American and Russian troops were involved in an Aug. 25, 2020 armored vehicle crash that injured seven U.S. service members.
U.S. official Capt. Bill Urban says the Russian troops used “deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior” in northeastern Syria. There is a series of established means for the Russian and American forces in the country to communicate and the Russians blatantly disregarded those channels.
Instead of communicating a request for passage through an American-controlled zone, a convoy of Russian armored vehicles made and “unauthorized incursion” into the area. They met a joint American and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) convoy, which they decided to “aggressively and recklessly pursue.”
As the U.S. convoy moved, it was sideswiped by Russian vehicles, and buzzed by an extremely low overflight from a Russian helicopter. While the seven servicemembers sustained injuries consistent with vehicle accidents, all are said to have returned to regular duty.
There are now videos of the provocative behavior circulating on social media sites. The Russian Embassy in the United States blamed the US for the collision, after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mike Milley and the chief of Russia’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, discussed the incident via telephone.
General Gerasimov said the American-led coalition in Syria was informed of the Russian convoy’s passage and that it was the US convoy that was attempting to block and delay the Russians’ passing through the area. The Pentagon confirmed the conversation, but none of the details announced by the Russians.
The National Security council released a statement to CNN that revealed the vehicle struck by the Russians was a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) and that Russia’s behavior was “a breach of deconfliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019.”
This most recent clash between American and Russian military forces came near the northeastern Syrian town of Dayrick. A number of incidents involving US troops coming under attack from Russian-back Syrian government forces have occurred in recent weeks, including a rocket attack on a U.S. base and a skirmish between Syrian and American convoys.
Russia is opposed to the continued American presence in the SDF-controlled eastern provinces of Syria, which contain much of the country’s oil fields – and are used by the Kurdish-led SDF to fund its continued anti-ISIS operations in Syria. Though President Trump has ordered all but 500 US troops to leave Syria, the United Nations estimates there are still some 10,000 or more ISIS-affiliated fighters operating in the country.
The last time American forces engaged in a direct altercation with Russians in Syria, it resulted in a four-hour firefight between Syrian government troops with the help of Russian mercenaries and a cadre of U.S. troops in an SDF headquarters building. No Americans were harmed.
The US Air Force announced that the last squadrons of the legendary B-52 Stratofortress have concluded their operations against ISIS in the Middle East and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and have returned home to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
“Following two years of B-52 squadrons employing nearly 12,000 weapons on Islamic State and Taliban targets across U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, the venerable BUFF flew its last mission April 7  before turning over the bomber duty reins to the newly arrived B-1B Lancer,” an Air Force spokesman said in a statement.
The bomber, nicknamed the BUFF for “Big Ugly Fat Fellow,” has been in service with the Air Force for 63 years, the last two of which it served as US Central Command’s go-to bomber.
Almost 12,000 weapons were dropped over the course of 1,850 missions on ISIS and Taliban targets. On average, B-52 aircrews recorded 400-450 hours in a single six to seven-month deployment, which is nearly three times the traditional 300 hours usually flown by B-52 crews.
A number of new records were also made. The 23rd Bomb Squadron celebrated its 100th birthday in June 2017, with 400 consecutive missions without any maintenance delays, breaking the previous record that was set during the Vietnam War’s Operation Linebacker II in 1972.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele)
In September of that same year, the B-52 surpassed the B-1 Lancer’s record of 761 consecutive missions without a maintenance cancellation by 73 missions, increasing the record to 834.
A B-52 dropped 24 precision guided munitions during a 96-hour air campaign against Taliban training and narcotics facilities in Feburary 2018, breaking the previous record (which was also set by a B-52) for the most smart bombs dropped on the Taliban.
American commanders have huge respect and admiration for the B-52 and its aircrews. “The BUFF did a fantastic job crushing ISIS on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria,” Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of US Air Forces Central Command, said.
“Some would say it’s a cold war relic,” Lt. Col. Paul Goossen, the commander of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, said. “But it’s such a versatile airframe that it keeps being reinvented and it keeps showing its usefulness and its relevance in every war that America finds itself in.”
US Central Command’s future bombing operations in its area of responsibility will be conducted by B-1 bombers.
In the social media age, U.S. military planners know it is near impossible to move large equipment, like ships and aircraft, without being spotted and having the activity broadcast to the world.
As the Defense Department continues to posture itself to counter China and Russia, one Air Force command is strategizing ways to throw off the enemy by doing everything in plain sight, according to the top general for the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.
“That may mean not going into the predictable places or setting up new predictable places,” Gen. Maryanne Miller said. Miller spoke with Military.com during a trip with Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein to the base here.
Executing that strategy could be as simple as sending a C-5 Supergalaxy aircraft instead of a C-17 Globemaster III, on a cargo mission, or by placing cargo in spots the U.S. typically doesn’t operate in, making movements more difficult for observers to interpret.
US Air Force C-5 in flight.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Brett Snow)
“An example is, if you drive by a 7-11 [store], is that really a 7-11, or what’s really going on in there?” Miller said. “We land places all the time. You can land at MidAmerica [St. Louis] Airport and there may be some customers that are using some of those hangars that do some very special things. But yet when you see that place operate every day, it looks normal.”
She continued, “We need the capacity and the capability to just get to where we need to get to, [and that may be] off the beaten track sometimes.”
The initiative is part of a larger effort to actually shrink the Air Force’s footprint while expanding its reach, added Goldfein. The service has been working on modular bases that would act as small hubs designed to house a quick-reaction force. The Air Force has conducted exercises in Eastern Europe in recent months to see how effectively it can build up, tear down and move to get closer to a potential crisis.
The Air Force may also be able to make use of positions and infrastructure not designed for military purposes.
US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.
(US Air Force photo)
“For me, the number one [thing] is, ‘Do we have the right amount of basing and access to be able to perform the global mobility mission?'” Goldfein said. “The global mobility mission requires a number of bases … military and civilian, that we routinely exercise and use. Because in a time of crisis or conflict, you don’t want to start building your basing access at that point. You actually have to have it.”
The Defense Logistics Agency, for example, is working fuel contracts with civilian ports to get more fuel access for Air Force planes, he said.
“We’re going to all these different places all the time to make sure that we can move an airplane; every three minutes, there’s somebody taking off or landing to do that,” Goldfein said.
There are also lessons to be learned from close international partners, Goldfein said.
For example, “India, in the global mobility business, actually operates the highest-altitude C-17 operations on the planet,” Goldfein said.
“We have a lot to learn from India in high altitude and mobility operations. And we have a lot to offer India when it comes to global mobility and how we operate back and forth. So that’s one example where … we’re more competitive because we … build trust and confidence at a different level,” Goldfein said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
In the heat of battle, some people freeze up, some charge forward, and some drop awesome lines like they’re trying to win a rap battle.
These quotes are from the third category.
1. “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach! The dead and those who are going to die! Now, let’s get the hell out of here!”
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Photo: public domain)
This was shouted by Army Col. George Taylor as he urged his men forward at Normandy on D-Day. According to survivors, Taylor yelled a few different versions of this quote during the landings at Omaha Beach and all of them had the desired effect, spurring American soldiers forward against the Nazi guns firing on the beach.
2. “All right. They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us … They can’t get away this time.”
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe led the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans were outnumbered, surrounded, and running short on supplies when a German delegation requested their surrender. McAuliffe was awoken with the news and sleepily responded “Nuts!” before heading to meet his staff who had to draft the formal response to the German commander.
The staff decided that the general’s initial response was better than anything they could write. While under siege and near constant attack, the paratroopers typed the following centered on a sheet of paper:
The USS Wahoo was an enormously successful U.S. submarine in World War II that sank five Japanese ships totaling 32,000 tons — including an entire four-ship convoy — during its third cruise. Near the end of the patrol, the Wahoo tried to sink a second convoy but was surprised by a previously unspotted Japanese destroyer outfitted for anti-submarine operations.
Navy legend John Paul Jones helped create the sea service during the American Revolution and, in an epic battle with the HMS Serapis, gave at least a couple of epic quotes including this one when he was asked to surrender.
Stephen E. Ambrose’s famous book “Band of Brothers” attributes a similar quote, “They’ve got us surrounded — the poor bastards,” to an unknown Army medic. As the story goes, the medic was telling an injured corporal why none of the wounded had been evacuated.
9. “Goddamn it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”
10. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”
Americans most often associate this line with the Battle of Bunker Hill, but there’s evidence it was said by different officers at a few points in history. At Bunker Hill in 1775, the order was given by at least one of the leaders of Patriot forces building new fortifications on Bunker and Breed’s Hills near Cambridge, Massachusetts. The intent was to preserve the limited powder and shot.
The gambit worked, allowing the Patriots to inflict major damage with their initial volleys, but it wasn’t enough for the outnumbered and outgunned Americans to hold the hills.
11. “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”
The Marine who recounts hearing “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” was in another part of the battlefield, so it’s possible that two Marines yelled similar lines in different parts of Belleau Wood or that someone misremembered a line yelled in one of World War I’s most dramatic battles.
He did it. He finally did it. Secretary of the Army Mark Esper has recently signed a memorandum that states the high-visibility belt, better known as the PT belt, isn’t required in the daytime. On top of this, he removed pointless PowerPoint presentations, implemented a fitness test that revolves around a soldier’s combat readiness potential, and has pushed for a return to training focused on military operations as opposed to training for training’s sake.
Madness. This is absolute madness. What’s next? Is walking on grass going to be okay? What about weekly PMCSs where soldiers kick the tires and say they’re good? Will the Army acknowledge that a leader’s evaluation report should also be created with input from randomly-selected direct subordinates to discourage asskissery and brown-nosing, providing an accurate reflection of that leader’s ability? These are indeed dark times, according to the people who say the Old Army died a few years after they ETSed.
Sarcasm aside, the Good-Idea Fairy has finally been questioned and wearing reflective belts during the daytime has been ruled officially useless.
(Department of Defense photo by Bill Orndorff)
Secretary Esper’s first official statement, issued back in November, 2017, emphasized his goals of promoting readiness, modernization, and reforming the way the Army conducts itself. This reevaluation of the effectiveness of the reflective belt is just one of the many items on the docket.
The Army is also using common sense in how it conducts inventories. As opposed to performing 100% inventories that require countless hours in the motor pool realigning conex boxes, now, if boxes are secure and there’s no evidence of tampering, it’s automatically accounted for, allowing the troops to focus efforts elsewhere.
Don’t be that idiot who thinks the PT belt is gone for good. You still want to be seen by cars before sunrise.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Timothy Lenzo)
Logically speaking, this makes absolute sense. The PT belt was implemented in the mid-’90s as a knee-jerk reaction to a horrific accident that killed several airmen. Several factors led to this horrible accident, including the driver driving on a designated route for PT, a lack of a traffic light at an intersection, and a lack of street lights in the area. But instead of focusing on the issues that actually led to the deaths of several airmen, reflective belts were implemented across the board.
Reflective belts will still be required in the morning, before the sun comes up, or in low-visibility conditions, like fog. A shiny thing that costs .50 at the PX can save lives, but little things, like ground-guiding a vehicle around the motor pool, don’t require a belt. Also, if soldiers are exercising on an enclosed track in the afternoon, a PT belt is not going to make a difference. Also, this entire memorandum leaves the discretion up to the commanders themselves.
The only thing that’s changing is that young soldiers won’t be getting an ass-chewing for something completely arbitrary.
Appearing May 3 before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Shulkin told lawmakers the VA had compiled a list of 1,165 vacant or underused buildings that could be closed, saving the federal government $25 million annually.
Shulkin didn’t specify which facilities would close and local VA officials didn’t return messages seeking comment that afternoon.
Shulkin, a deputy holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration whom Congress then unanimously approved to run the VA earlier this year, said Congress needs to determine how the facilities would be closed. He suggested the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure — or BRAC — process might be a good model.
But Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R- Nebraska, urged him to never “use the term BRAC because it brings up a lot of bad memories” and sets up the VA “for a lot of controversy.”
President Donald Trump seeks $78.9 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, a 6 percent increase from the 2017 fiscal year level. Trump’s budget plan requests $3.5 billion to expand the Veterans Choice Program, which enables veterans to receive certain kinds of treatment outside of the VA system.
If enacted, Trump’s proposal also would add $4.6 billion in funding to spur better patient access and greater timeliness of medical services for the agency’s more than 9 million patients.
Shulkin said the VA authorized 3.6 million patient visits at private-sector health-care facilities between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — a 23 percent boost compared to the previous year.
With more than 370,000 employees, the VA has the second-largest workforce in the federal government. Shulkin said it must become more efficient at delivering services to veterans. Some of the most entrenched problems are in the appeals process for veterans who have lodged disability claims following their military service.
Currently, the VA has nearly 470,000 such cases pending appeal. For cases awaiting action by the Board of Veterans Appeals, the typical wait time is six years for a decision. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that hosted Shulkin on May 3, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, termed the appellate system an “absolute mess.”
Shulkin conceded that it “undoubtedly needs further improvements” and urged Congress to legislate reforms and streamline the process into a “modernized” system. The longer Capitol Hill waits to fix the process, he said, “the more appeals will enter the current broken system.”