On October 19, 2018, a crowd of over 700 guests gathered at Pier Sixty at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers for one reason: to help provide mental healthcare to the men and women who fight for our freedoms. During their 6th annual gala, Headstrong, an organization that provides cost-free, stigma-free, and bureaucracy-free mental healthcare to post-9/11 military veterans, put on a fun-filled event — and raised over $2 million in the process.
Headstrong is making a huge impact on the veteran community.
“We have served over 750 veterans over 16,000 therapy sessions by 150 best-in-class clinicians in 23 cities across the country. All through private donations. Simply incredible,” said Army veteran and Headstrong Executive Director Joe Quinn.
During the event, three veterans seeking treatment through Headstrong, Amanda Burrill, Derek Coy and James Byler, opened up about their struggles and successes in finding effective mental healthcare. Their stories inspired the hundreds in attendance.
Left to Right: Joe Quinn, Executive Director of the Headstrong Project; Derek Coy; Amanda Burrill; James Byler
Despite the seriousness of the organization’s goals, the night wasn’t without a good dose of levity — after all, it was more than a fundraiser, it was a celebration. World War II veteran and former POW, Ewing Miller, was celebrating his 95th birthday — and he did so by being served cake by actor Jake Gyllenhaal and late night host Seth Meyers.
Left to Right: Seth Meyers, Host of ‘Late night with Seth Meyers’; Jake Gyllenhaal, Actor; Ewing Miller, WWII veteran; CNBC’s Kenny Polcari
Ewing Miller served from 1942 to 1945. On February 5, 1945, his aircraft was shot down — he was the sole survivor. He endured capture by the Germans until he was eventually freed by legendary military leader, General George S. Patton. Ewing earned several decorations during his time in service, including the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with two clusters, the POW Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal.
When the lights finally dimmed on the evening’s celebrations, Headstrong had raised over million, which will be used to directly improve the lives of many post-9/11 veterans that are struggling with mental health — and it’s a cause worth championing. Marine veteran and Founder of Headstrong, Zach Iscol, said,
“When you put goal-oriented veterans together with top mental healthcare providers, they get better. The panic attacks go away, the anxiety goes away, the anger goes away, the self-medicating goes away…they blossom,”
To learn more about Headstrong, their initiatives, and what you can do to support veteran mental healthcare, visit their website.
Next week is the Fourth of July and there’s countless celebrations planned all around the country. Of course, there’s the fireworks and the air shows, but we can’t forget about all the military parades. Speaking from personal experience, military parades for the general public are the worst.
You get there five hours in advance and your NCO is hounding you not to even make the slightest wrong move. Then when you’re actually marching in formation through the designated route, there’s always going to be those people in the crowds that try to jump to the “join” the formation.
I get it, if it’s a kid – I’ll smile down at them, tell them they’re getting it (regardless if they are or not) and keep moving. My problem is when the douche bag bros hop in the back and say some sh*t like “I’m just like you guys!” If this was just a one time thing, I would chalk it up as a bad encounter. But this happened three different times to me outside two different Army posts.
Anyways, here’s some memes while I wrap myself in my DD-214 blanket to forget about douchey civilians.
Days after President Vladimir Putin threatened the US, a Russian state TV channel pinpointed places in the US that Russia would target in a nuclear war with its new Zircon missile, said to travel at up to nine times the speed of sound, according to Reuters.
The targets listed in Russia-1’s broadcast on Feb. 24, 2019, were the Pentagon, Camp David, Jim Creek Naval Radio Station in Washington, Fort Ritchie in Maryland, and McClellan Air Force Base in California, according to Reuters and the Russian media outlet Sputnik. The latter two have been closed for about two decades, making them odd choices, Sputnik said.
Russia-1 claimed that the Zircon missile Russia is developing could strike critical US targets less than five minutes after launch, Reuters reported. Fired from a submarine, a hypersonic weapon can cover great distance very quickly; however, Russia’s claims concerning its new weapon are impossible to verify.
Tensions have been flaring between the US and Russia since the two countries in early 2019 walked away from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War-era nuclear arms agreement that NATO and the US have accused Russia of violating. Observers have said the collapse of this bilateral pact risks escalating an arms race between the two nuclear powers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States President Donald Trump.
Russia is particularly concerned about the possibility that the US will position new missiles in Europe. Washington has said it has no plans to do so, but its backing out of the treaty frees it to develop and eventually deploy these weapons to Europe if it deems such actions necessary.
Putin had claimed Russia would respond to any US move to deploy missiles closer to Europe by sending its missiles closer to the US, a threat that the US State Department dismissed as propaganda.
In his state-of-the-nation address on Feb. 20, 2019, Putin threatened to target countries housing the missiles and US decision-making centers with new weapons if the US were to take that step.
It was during that speech that the president unveiled the Zircon missile, a hypersonic weapon he said could fly at nine times the speed of sound and strike targets 620 miles away.
Putin also said Russia was ready for a “Cuban missile-style crisis” if the US wants one, adding that Russia could arm its submarines with hypersonic weapons and let them lurk off the US’s coast, Reuters reported.
Pectoralis major (chest), gastrocnemius (calf), and the rectus abdominis (abs) are just a few of the popular areas that both men and women work to strengthen and tone. But how do we get them to grow without overdoing it and hurting ourselves in the gym?
The Answer? Science.
There are approximately 600 muscles found in the human body. This dense, complex fibrous tissue makes up between one-third and one-half of our total body weight. Even if your goal isn’t to win a bodybuilding competition, working out determines whether your body will grow or wither.
So, how can science help us grow muscle? Well, you need to learn how a muscle works before you can push it to its limit.
Let’s say you want to lift a small amount of weight that your body can efficiently manage. First, your brain sends a signal to the motor neurons in your arm. Once the neurons receive the message, they fire up, contracting and relaxing your muscles. The muscles pull on the bones in your arm to create the movement needed to lift the weight.
It’s pretty simple, right?
Now, if the load we need to carry is on the heavier side, that signal from your brain gets magnified, enabling you to generate the required force.
In lifting this heavy object, you’ve exposed your muscle to stress and, as a result, you’ve completed a controlled tear in the muscle fibers. Nice work! In response to the damage, your body releases inflammatory cells called “cytokines.” These cells activate your immune system, repairing the controlled injury and making the muscle fibers stronger.
And we like that.
Since our bodies are great at adapting, continuing with the same routine, day-in and day-out, will cause your body to plateau — meaning you won’t build any additional muscle. By introducing different types of resistance to your body, you can avoid this plateau. Instead, your body will enter into a state called “hypertrophy.”
(Photo by Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian J. Robertson)
Now, lifting the heavy weights isn’t the only critical aspect to getting your body ready for beach season. Your tissue won’t be able to repair damaged muscle fibers without the help of proper nutrition, rest, and, of course, the right amount of hormones. Both gender and age affect the healing process, which is why young men with high testosterone levels find it easiest to bulk up.
Check out Ted-Ed‘s animated video below to get an entertaining and educational look at how humans get buffed out using science as their weapon.
Seven Navy SEALs were warned that reporting the alleged war crimes of their teammates and calling for a formal investigation could jeopardize their careers, a Navy criminal investigation report revealed.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward “Eddie” Gallagher has been accused of killing an unarmed ISIS fighter with a hunting knife and firing on civilians with a sniper rifle while deployed in Iraq, as well as obstructing justice by attempting to intimidate his fellow SEALs. He allegedly threatened to kill teammates that spoke to authorities about his alleged actions.
Gallagher was arrested in September 2018 following allegations of intimidating witnesses and obstruction of justice, and he was detained at San Diego’s Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar. He was officially charged in January 2019 with premeditated murder, among other crimes.
In late March 2019, after a tweet by President Trump, Gallagher was moved from the brig at Miramar to a facility at Balboa Naval Medical Center, where he is presently awaiting trial.
His direct superior, Lt. Jacob Portier, is accused of failing to report Gallagher’s alleged crimes and burying/destroying evidence. Portier has pleaded not guilty.
Gallagher, a decorated SEAL who earned a Bronze Star for valor, has pleaded not guilty, and his defense is denying all charges.
When his teammates, members of SEAL Team 7’s Alpha Platoon, met privately with their troop commander at Naval Base Coronado in March 2018 to discuss Gallagher’s alleged crimes, they were encouraged to keep quiet. The message was “stop talking about it,” one SEAL told investigators, according to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the 439-page report.
Their commander, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, reportedly told the SEALs that the Navy “will pull your birds,” a reference to the eagle-and-trident badges the SEALs wear to represent their hard-earned status as elite warfighters.
Navy SEAL insignia.
His aide, Master Chief Petty Officer Brian Alazzawi, told them that the “frag radius” or the area of impact for an investigation into alleged war crimes could be particularly large and damaging to a number of SEALs, The New York Times reported.
The accusers ignored the warning and came forward with their concerns. Now, Gallagher is facing a court-martial trial, which is currently scheduled for May 28, 2019.
Gallagher’s defense attorney Tim Parlatore told The New York Times that the Navy’s investigation report is incomplete, arguing that there are hundreds of additional pages that are sealed. He insists that these documents include testimony stating that Gallagher did not commit the crimes of which he is charged.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
For the longest time, I always wanted an M1903 Springfield rifle. This was the rifle that served in two world wars and saw use as late as the Vietnam Conflict. To this day the rifle serves in Honor Guard Detachments honoring our fallen military members and US veterans. It’s one of those iconic fighting rifles that every serious gunny should have in their safes.
My problem was two-fold.
First, they always seemed to be around and always seemed to be priced on the lower end of the spectrum. I would see one, handle it, inspect it and think about it; only to be swayed by some other firearm, seemingly at the last minute. Those of us who lived through the Federal Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 or any of the numerous state bans know this phenomenon all too well.
“That’s just an old bolt-action rifle. I need to buy more ammo, more magazines, more black guns, before I can’t get them anymore.”
Invariably this leads to the second part of the dilemma. By the time you think your collection, or horde, is squared away and you can go for something you really want as a fun shooter or a collectible; that price has seemed to skyrocket.
“Oh my God! I remember when these things were all day long in a pickle barrel outside the gun shop! Now they want 00!!!!”
If I am exaggerating, it is only slightly. Prices of obsolete or out of production firearms rise due to scarcity and demand. Remember when Mosin Nagant rifles sold as low as each, in some areas that price has increased more than 10-fold! Then the realization hits you that there were only a finite amount of those rifles to go around.
Many military surplus rifles were converted into sporting rifles because a surplus Mauser, Enfield or even a Springfield 1903 was much cheaper than a commercially manufactured bolt-action hunting rifle. In the past few years, I have actually restored a number of these rifles to their former military appearance. When I came across this Remington M1903A3 Springfield at around 0, I thought I would take another chance.
Luckily the rifle’s action, barrel, and sights were still intact. The previous owner had discarded the original military stock, handguards, and the metal stock hardware. I removed the barreled action from the commercial Fajen stock and began my search for the rest of the parts.
I found all the metal hardware at SARCO: butt plate, sling swivels, stacking swivel, sling swivel screws, and handguard ring. It was a mix of some original and some reproduction. I found an original military stock on an auction site and a reproduction handguard in the white and handguard clips at Numrich Arms.
The stock was very dark and required a good deal of hand fitting in order to install the action properly. This was mostly with regard to the internal magazine body and the mounting screw channels. I spent a week staining the new handguard, but it never got quite as dark as the stock. Eventually I might go with another stock closer in color to the hand guard, but for now, I would be satisfied with just a decent shooter.
I had hopes… the trigger was nice, the bore was clean and the metal still had that Remington green hue to it for which the Remington-built rifles were famous.
It was installing the metal hardware that proved to be its own challenge.
At first glance you might think that these parts slide over the front sight and barrel, but the front sight sits too high and requires removal.
I soaked it overnight in Kroil and the next day removed the front sight base, as trying to tap just the sight blade usually leads to its destruction.
The base is set in a keyway and although it’s a notoriously tight fit, it comes off rather easily. Drift out the pin, drive out the sight, remove the entire blade. The handguard, bands, etc. are then easily installed and the sight is put back into place. I advise going slow, using lots of machine oil and you won’t ding or destroy your sight.
With the rifle together and in as close to original condition as I was going to take it at this point, I set out to the range.
One of the things I like about the M1903A3 is the longer sight radius with the rear mounted peep sight. It may not be as fast as some military rifles with their over the chamber mounted rear sights, but I’m not gearing up to storm the beaches of Guadalcanal anytime soon.
As a full-time firearms reviewer, consultant, and author I have the luxury of trying out many new firearms, but rarely get to shoot the ones I really enjoy.
Initial testing using some Greek surplus ball ammo yielded groups of 3.35″ to 4.5″ at 100 yards. The next time out, I might try some commercial ammunition and maybe even attempt some fitting of the handguard, stock, and barrel bands. There are a lot of components that can affect accuracy on this rifle, considering in its sporter configuration it produced groups of about half that size at the same distance.
The rifle filled a small void in my collection and will probably only be shot a few times a year if I am lucky. However, I still hold to the old adage that only accurate rifles are interesting and my goal will be to make my M1903A3 interesting once again.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
One of the more constant sources of action for the United States Navy in the 1980s was the Gulf of Sidra.
On three occasions, “freedom of navigation” exercises turned into violent encounters, an operational risk that all such exercises have. The 1989 incident where two F-14 Tomcats from VF-32, based on board the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) is very notable – especially since the radio communications and some of the camera footage was released at the time.
In 1981, two Su-22 Fitters had fired on a pair of Tomcats. The F-14s turned around and blasted the Fitters out of the sky. Five years later, the Navy saw several combat engagements with Libyan navy assets and surface-to-air missile sites.
In the 1989 incident, the Tomcats made five turns to try to avoid combat, according to TheAviationist.com. The Floggers insisted, and ultimately, the Tomcat crews didn’t wait for hostile fire.
Like Han Solo at the Mos Eisley cantina, they shot first.
So, here is the full video of the incident – from the time contact was acquired to when the two Floggers went down.
It’s likely that whoever US troops fight in the next war, these enemies will be armed with drones. That’s why Army researchers have invented a smart and cost-effective way to bring them down.
The US Army has invented a new grenade in the 40 mm configuration that is packed with a net and specifically designed to take out enemy drones.
The weapon, which was developed by Army engineers at the Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) in New Jersey, can be launched from the standard grenade launchers regularly used by the US military and law enforcement.
The Army’s simple yet effective invention has purportedly outperformed existing net-centric counter-drone techniques, such as drone-operated drag nets, where a pilot must outmaneuver an enemy aerial drone. That tactic would likely be ineffective against a swarm of drones, which a sophisticated adversary like Russia would be capable of wielding.
Furthermore, the new net-packed grenade is a lot cheaper than surface-to-air weapons, such as surface to air missiles, to take out an adversary’s drones. A US ally once used a million Patriot missile to shoot down a quadcopter drone that probably cost no more than 0, US Army Gen. David Perkins last year, calling attention to the need for affordable counter-drone capabilities.
Ground units equipped with the M320 grenade launchers could carry dozens of these grenades to eliminate enemy drones from hundreds of yards away, TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer ,explained, adding that units equipped with the Mk-19 launchers could down enemy drones from even farther away.
The Army wants to eventually expand this concept to disable boats and trucks and much more.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Whether he spends his weekends streaming on Twitch or if he’s lucky enough to squeeze in a few hours a week, every gaming dad needs the best gear to unlock his next achievement. From the resurgence of retro consoles to the latest in high-resolution headphones, here are 11 gifts that can help any dad level up his game.
1. NES Wireless Controllers for Switch
It’s the perfect hybrid of old-school aesthetics and modern tech. This wireless two-pack brings back the vintage NES controllers as an alternative for the Nintendo Switch. This isn’t some nostalgia cash grab, it’s specifically for the classic NES games you can play on the Switch via the Nintendo eShop. Plus, there are just two updates — the controllers come with two new shoulder buttons.
Created by eSports innovative tech company Scuf Gaming, this controller reimagines Sony’s DualShock 4 by borrowing the style of the Xbox One controller and ups the customization factor. With additional buttons (paddles, actually) placed under the gamepad, you can create custom button settings allowing you to keep your thumbs on the sticks during any game.
Nintendo Labo not only gets kids more involved with gaming titles, but it also invokes a DIY spirit before the console is turned on. Their newest kit, the Labo Vehicle, gives you everything you need to craft a cardboard steering wheel and pedal for racers, a joystick for planes, and a submarine wheel for underwater adventure.
Following in the footsteps of the absurdly successful and adorably cute retro consoles by Nintendo, Sony is dipping its toes in the nostalgia pool with their PlayStation One Classic. Roughy 45% smaller than the 1994 original, the Classic comes with two wired controllers, an internal memory card, and 20 preloaded titles including Metal Gear Solid, Ridge Racer 4, Twisted Metal and Rayman.
The world’s first certified high-res gaming headphones may just be the best set of cans for gaming. The headphones can take PS4 or PC audio and deliver lossless, crystal clear sound. Not to mention, they’re equipped for online chat with a built-in retractable mic, comfy leather ear cushions, and the Arctis signature ski goggle suspension strap over the steel headband for a perfect fit. Choose a reliable wired controller, or go wireless.
Fans of Red Dead Redemption have waited eight long years to traverse the wild west once again. Red Dead Redemption 2 is already being called an all-time great, and Sony is celebrating the critically acclaimed sequel with a PS4 Pro bundle. The PS4 Pro itself may have no RDR2 inspired decorations or skins, but with the game in full 4K glory, no one will ever look at the console.
Delivering the best VR visuals with no PC or wired connection needed, and at half the price of the Oculus Rift, Go is the sleekest VR headset to date. The elastic straps on the Go make for the most pleasant fitting VR headset available, and with thousands of compatible apps for the Go, you’ll appreciate the comfort after a few hours.
8. Blood Sweat & Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made
It can take hundreds of people countless hours over a number of years to create one single game. All of that work often goes unnoticed, until now. Jason Schreier, an editor at Kotaku, takes readers through first-hand tales of video game development from the biggest AAA games to the smallest indies, giving credit to the unsung heroes behind your favorite games including Destiny, Dragon Age, and games that made it to consoles.
It’s the biggest video game of 2018, and Microsoft is piggybacking off of the popular title with an Xbox One S bundle. The 1TB edition comes with a full download of the first person shooter and a DLC complete with different skins, 2,000 in-game money (V-Bucks) and a free month to Xbox Live. It’s worth nothing, Fortnite has cross-platform play, so you can take on friends who are playing on other gaming systems.
According to the science from Kontrol Freek, the company feels every gamer would see an improvement in performance if every thumbstick on current controllers were just taller. Freek says their sticks ups your accuracy and takes the tension off your thumbs. And with a slew of different styles, colors, and game themes, you can find the thumbstick that’s just right for you.
Well guys, the Army’s slogan of “Army Strong” has officially been put on the chopping block. It had a solid run between 2006 and now, but it’s time to close that chapter and move on to the next slogan.
“One of the major responses we get when we survey folks who don’t have experience with military service is strength, so we know the ‘Army Strong’ resonates… but I don’t think it tells the story, the full story of being a soldier,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Dan Dailey told defense reporters.
(DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)
The U.S. Army has had a mixed bag of slogans, from the out-freaking-standing, like “Be All You Can Be” and “I Want You,” to that awkward, blue falcon-inspired “Army of One.” Using those guidelines and past experiences, let’s focus in on what makes a good recruiting slogan. For all practical purposes, the slogan should be on par with a commercial product’s brand — after all, both try to entice the public and leave a lasting impression.
First thing to look for is how well it will stick in someone’s head. The idea of any slogan, for recruitment or otherwise, is to build brand recognition. The Navy ran an ill-fated “A Global Force for Good” slogan back in 2009. It sounds polite and it puts the Navy in a positive light, but it’s not turning any heads — it’s simply literal.
Just hearing that, even in context, doesn’t make any random person think, “Oh! I should join the Navy!” Their response to selling America’s Navy better in the eyes of younger potential sailors? Simply, “America’s Navy.” That lasted a whole two years before going to the objectively better “Forged by the Sea.” The Army needs a slogan that is uniquely Army.
(Meme via Dysfunctional Veterans)
Audiences have been quick to ask, “why not go back to ‘Be All You Can Be?'” The fact is, there’s no way of knowing whether young adults today will share the same connection with it as older Army vets once did. Put bluntly, the new slogan isn’t meant to reenlist retirees, but those who lived by the words should still be proud to say them. So, the goal is to make the slogan resonate with today’s young adults without making something embarrassing years down the line.
Brevity is also the key to a great slogan. The Army isn’t looking for some tired, furniture-salesman jingle. Something short, sweet, and to the point. “Army Strong” was good for this — keeping a two-to-four-word limit is a must. These slogans are easier for audiences to remember. After all, leaving a lasting, positive image of the Army is the goal. Many of the greatest ad campaigns in history have all been short and direct.
A great slogan subconsciously tells people of the benefits of their brand. In the Army’s case, it’s the benefit of being a soldier. At their cores, that’s why “Be All You Can Be” and “Army Strong” worked. They tell potential recruits that enlisting will improve their lives — and just as importantly, that they’re missing out on something if they don’t enlist.
Finally, the slogan should tell the truth of what it means to serve and should apply to all soldiers, from the beastly Special Forces operator to a regular training room clerk in the National Guard. Slogans like, “Be a Bad Mother F*cker” may grab eyeballs, but it isn’t exactly applicable.
Following all of these guidelines, the best slogan for convincing young adults who are thinking of enlisting is something along the lines of, “Become greater than yourself.” Simple, effective, true, and it’s a feeling that all soldiers feel when they serve — regardless of generation.
Only time will tell when the Army will adopt a new slogan. I wouldn’t be worried though. The bar is set at pretty low — just do better than “Army of One.”
Our military isn’t known for going easy on its lower enlisted troops — unless you’re Bowe Bergdahl especially in the infantry. At best, troops grind out a hard day’s work Monday through Friday. At worst, they’ll work overnights and weekends — and, oh by the way, they’ll do it in a war zone.
Throughout your chain of command, you will have a unique relationship with each ranking member. Some will never speak to you directly, while others will always be in your face — specifically, your platoon sergeant.
The platoon sergeant is the middleman between the lower enlisted and the senior officers, so don’t piss him off.
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.
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.
VA Secretary David Shulkin suggests he favors expansion of Agent Orange-related health care and disability compensation to new categories of ailing veterans but that factors, like cost, medical science, and politics, still stand in the way.
Shulkin told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on March 21, 2018, that he made recommendations to White House budget officials in 2017 on whether to add up to four more conditions — bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like tremors, and hypertension (high blood pressure) — to the VA list of 14 illnesses presumed caused by exposure to herbicides used during the Vietnam War.
“I have transmitted my recommendations to the [White House’s] Office of Management and Budget. I did that by Nov. 1, 2017, Shulkin said. “And we are in the process right now of going through this data. In fact, we met with [OMB officials] on March 26, 2018. They asked for some additional data to be able to work through the process and be able to get financial estimates for this. So, we are committed to working with OMB to get this resolved in the very near future.”
Shulkin didn’t say which of the four conditions, if any, he wants added to the presumptive list, if and when cleared by the White House.
At the same hearing, the VA chief was asked his position on Blue Water Navy veterans of the Vietnam War who also suffer from illnesses on the VA presumptive list but aren’t eligible to use it to facilitate claims for care and compensation.
They “have waited too long for this,” Shulkin agreed, but then suggested the solution for these veterans is blocked by medical evidence or swings on the will of the Congress.
“I would like to try to find a way where we can resolve that issue for them, rather than make them continue to wait,” Shulkin said. “I do not believe there will be scientific data [to] give us a clear answer like we do have on the Agent Orange presumptive” list for veterans who had served in-country. “For the Blue Water Navy… epidemiologic studies just aren’t available from everything I can see. So, we’re going to have to sit down and do what we think is right for these veterans.”
Vietnam veterans who served even a day in-country who have illnesses on the presumptive list can qualify for VA medical care and disability compensation without having to show other evidence that their ailments are service-connected.
Shulkin said VA “recently” received the last report of the National Academy of Medicine, which found a stronger scientific association than earlier studies between certain ailments and herbicide exposure. In fact, however, the VA has had the report, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014, for two years.
It was written by a committee of medical experts that reviewed medical and scientific literature on select ailments and herbicide exposure published from Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2014. Released in March 2016, the report found evidence to support raising the strength of association between herbicide exposure and bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. The report upgrades the link from “inadequate or insufficient” evidence to “limited or suggestive” evidence of an association.
In years past, VA decided that for some ailments, such as Parkinson’s and ischemic heart disease, “limited or suggestive evidence” was enough to add these illnesses to the Agent Orange presumptive list. For others, including hypertension, a more common disease of aging, VA deemed it wasn’t enough.
This last NAM report, however, looked again at cardiovascular conditions and herbicide exposure. It didn’t upgrade the link to heart ailments but it did affirm limited or suggestive evidence that hypertension is linked to herbicide exposure.
It also studied whether Parkinson’s-like symptoms should fall into the same limited or suggestive category as Parkinson’s disease itself. The 2016 report found “no rational basis” to continue to exclude Parkinson-like symptoms from the same risk category. Parkinson’s disease itself was added to presumptive list in 2010.
VA secretaries under both the Obama and Trump administration reacted more slowly on the last NAM perhaps, by law, they could. Congress in 2015 let a portion of the Agent Orange law expire, language that required the VA Secretary to decide on new presumptive conditions within 180 days of accepting a NAM report.
The impact was immediate. Though a senior VA official tasked with reviewing this last NAM report said then-VA Secretary Bob McDonald would make his decisions within three months, it didn’t happen. McDonald left it to his successor. Shulkin waited more months and, in July 2017, vowed to decide by Nov. 1, 2017 OMB blocked an announcement, however, presumably over projected costs.
Cost has been a factor, too, in Congress not passing legislation to extend VA benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans diagnosed with illnesses on the presumptive list. Budget analysts a few years ago estimated a cost of $1.1 billion over 10 years.
Also, NAM did conduct a review of medical and scientific evidence regarding Blue Water Veterans’ possible exposure to herbicides and concluded in a May 2011 report that “there was not enough information… to determine whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange.”
Blue Water Veterans remain ineligible to use the Agent Orange presumptive list. A lone exception is granted for veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Vietnam veterans with this ailment may be granted service-connection without showing inland waterway service or that they set foot in-country.
In every session of Congress, going back years, Blue Water Navy bills have been introduced. They would, if passed, “include as part of the Republic of Vietnam its territorial seas for purposes of the presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure [to] herbicide agents while in Vietnam.”
The current House version of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299), introduced in January 2017 by Rep. David Valado (R-Ga.), has 327 co-sponsors. Yet prospects of passage remain dim. Valado reminded Shulkin at a mid-March 2018 hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee that, six months ago, Shulkin said he was seeking more recommendations from “subject matter experts” on the issue and would be ready to update Congress in the coming months.
“Have you come to a decision on Blue Water Navy veterans?”
“I am aligned with you that these veterans have waited too long,” Shulkin said, “and this is a responsibility that this country has. And, as our veterans get older, it’s unfair.…I believe it is imperative upon us to resolve this issue.
“I also believe,” Shulkin continued, “that there will not be strong scientific data to help resolve this,” in other words to justify benefit expansion. “This is going to be an obligation that we feel as a country, that these veterans shouldn’t be waiting any longer. And I am on the side of trying to find a way to resolve this for the Blue Water Navy veterans.”
Shulkin said his staff is “working hard to look at offsets” which means cuts to other parts of the VA budget to pay for Blue Water Navy benefits, or to find “other ways to be able to do that. And it is a high priority for us.”
Reminded by Valado that “with these types of cancers, time is of the essence,” Shulkin replied, “Absolutely.”
The Senate version of Blue Water legislation, S 422, was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has 49 co-sponsors and, so far, equally dim prospects of passage.