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Author: TriSec    Date: 07/09/2013 10:15:30

Good Morning.

Today is our 4,293rd day in Afghanistan.

We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:

US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,241
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,098

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1, 454, 376, 700, 000 .00

I usually keep a 'clipboard' of links and stories that I'll pick and choose from on any given week. It's the nature of the beast that I always have more saved than what I have space for in any given week. So this week before vacation, I've decided to do a "story dump"....I'll clear out some of the oldest stuff with a minimum of commentary.

We'll start at sea. You're all familiar with my thoughts on the F-35 "Lightning II", or the "flying turd". It seems that the Navy has a similar problem with a new fighting ship, called the "Littoral Combat Ship". We used to have hundreds of such vessels, but back when they were called "Destroyers", they weren't as sexy.

The House panel that funds defense spending said it’s “disturbed by the number of problems” marring the deployment to Asia of the Navy’s first Littoral Combat Ship.

The troubles “appear to be beyond the crew’s capability to handle, especially given that the LCS should have been in an extremely high state of readiness,” the House Appropriations defense subcommittee said in a report approved this week by the full committee as part of its defense bill for fiscal 2014.

The problems on the USS Freedom, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., include seawater contamination and rust particles in lubrication components used by the main propulsion system. The ship was forced to return to port in Singapore for repairs after eight hours of sailing on May 21, before a visit to the ship by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on June 2.

The troubled Littoral Combat Ship is intended to be a small, speedy, adaptable ship for patrolling shallow waters close to shore in areas such as the Persian Gulf. The $34 billion program to build 52 ships has faced an expanding list of questions about its manning, mission, firepower, defenses and survivability even as projected construction costs have soared.

The Freedom arrived in Singapore April 18 for a deployment of as long as 10 months to test approaches to manning and maintaining the ships and to work with allied navies.

“You’re all making history out here,” Hagel told the ship’s crew via intercom from the pilot house. “A new ship, new capacity, new opportunities.”

The vessel departed June 11 for a Malaysia training exercise.

Occasionally, we have good news to report here at Ask a Vet. Much has been made about the claims backlog at the VA, but little has been heard about the actual progress towards eliminating said backlog.

More than 65,000 veterans’ disability compensation claims have been eliminated during a two-month push to process the oldest claims first, Veterans Affairs Department officials announced Thursday.

The initial effort was aimed at processing claims that have been pending for at least two years, with the next four months set aside for handling claims that are between one and two years old.

As of Wednesday, the 60-day deadline set by VA for the first stage of the push, 97 percent of claims at least two years old were “eliminated from the backlog,” VA officials said in a statement.

Work starts today on claims pending for at least one year while “completing the final batch of the oldest claims,” according to the statement. More than 192,000 pending claims are between one and two years old, VA officials said.

VA officials said about 70 percent of the claims processed so far resulted in disability compensation being approved, a rate that is about what VA experiences for all claims.

“We have made great progress, but know much work remains to be done to eliminate the backlog,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, renewing his pledge to have all claims processed in 125 days by the end of 2015.

Since this blog is supposed to be about Afghanistan, there is some actual news about Afghanistan today, but probably not what you expect. Despite our moving towards leaving, there's still training going on. It's perhaps a preview of our "transition strategy", as a complete Afghan village is being built somewhere in South Dakota so we can bomb the hell out of it.

BELLE FOURCHE, S.D. — Army National Guard soldiers are building a mock Afghanistan village in western South Dakota that will be a target for Air Force bomber practice missions.

Members of the 842nd Engineer Company, which returned home last fall after a year of duty in Afghanistan, are helping build the village north of Belle Fourche on the military’s Powder River Training Complex, where Dakotas-based B-1 and B-52 bombers practice for combat.

The goal of the project is to give Air Force flight crews training in identifying an Afghan village from the air, and practice in targeting combatants while protecting allied forces and civilians. The area in the future might also be used as an urban warfare training site.

Soldiers are building roads, mock walled enclosures and irrigation ditches around a mock garden area, the Rapid City Journal reported. They are even building the roads to a low standard so they look as they would in a civilian area of Afghanistan.

Few Americans know the look of an Afghan village better than soldiers of the 842nd. Their year of construction projects took them through different areas of the landlocked nation of high plains and mountains.

“We built berms that are supposed to represent walled compounds,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rob Carr of Lead. “It will look similar from the air, and it will give the feel of an Afghan village.”

Back during the Bush administration, many of our forces were reaching the end of their signed "contracts" and looking forward to getting out and getting home. Remember how the Pentagon used all kinds of trickery to nullify those agreements and compel them to remain for four more years, or recall them from Guard duty? (The term eludes me now, but there was much reporting about it then.) That hasn't gone away, only now it's more insidious. It seems that GIs that want to transfer their GI Bill benefits to a family member can't do it unless they give four more years.

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Beginning Aug. 1, all active-duty military personnel who opt to transfer their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to a family member will be obligated to four more years of service, including troops who are eligible for retirement.

Through mass e-mails, squadron briefings and other methods, military officials at bases in Kaiserslautern are making efforts to inform servicemembers of the pending rule change that mostly affects senior officers and enlisted personnel who are nearing retirement.

Implemented on Aug. 1, 2009, as a recruiting and retention incentive, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill allows eligible servicemembers to transfer unused education benefits to immediate family members.

For most servicemembers, the obligation to sign up for four more years has applied since 2009. After the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill was introduced, temporary rules for servicemembers nearing retirement were approved that allowed them to incur anywhere from no additional time to three years of service when they transferred benefits, depending on their retirement eligibility date, according to military officials.

That waiver period expires at the end of next month, said Keith Davis, chief of education and training at the Ramstein education office.

“It’s across the board,” he said. “Effective Aug. 1, all members of the military, regardless of branch, will be required to serve a four-year active-duty service commitment at the time they elect to transfer benefits to a family member.

“The clock does not start ticking until they execute the actual transfer,” he said, and doesn’t necessarily mean those servicemembers must re-enlist for another four years.

“You have to give the military four years from the day you execute the transfer,” Davis said. “If you have two years left and you transfer (benefits), you would have to extend for an additional two years to satisfy the requirement.”

Just one more....if they have to give four more years to share their GI Bill benefits, at the very least, returning veterans should still be able to get into the workforce, no? Well....No. If they've got PTSD it's often still a red flag to potential employers.

Mike Liguori returned home after two tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines and slipped into a depression that, at its depths, left him contemplating suicide. But the San Carlos native emerged from the darkness of post-traumatic stress disorder and today feels his life is in a great place.

"The only complaint I have is not having a steady amount of work," Liguori said. "I want what we all want: a job."

He has no single explanation why his résumés over the past year largely have been ignored. But Liguori did write a poignant book about his experiences in the military and afterward, and he believes it's possible the PTSD issue has contributed to why he is still unemployed.

"It's not like it's a secret," said Liguori, 29, who has a Menlo College business degree. "Just Google my name. I don't know if that gets in the way. But if it is, I would tell those companies, 'God bless, but you don't know me and you don't understand PTSD.' "

The psychological after-effects of a life-threatening event, PTSD is the invisible wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in four recent veterans who has sought treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs has been diagnosed with the condition.

But the media-driven stigma of the "damaged veteran" also may have become a mostly unspoken reason for joblessness among the post-9/11 generation of veterans.

"There's a much greater awareness about PTSD than ever, and that's a good

thing," said Michael Blecker, a Vietnam War veteran and executive director of the San Francisco-based community services agency Swords to Plowshares. "But it's also a two-sided thing. With all the attention, it's bad if employers feel like somebody is a time bomb waiting to go off. Why would they bring veterans into the workplace if they believe that?"

Phew. That's enough for now. There's more, but I think the stories will keep for the next two weeks.

71 comments (Latest Comment: 07/09/2013 23:17:32 by BobR)
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