Good morning, bloggers!
Today marks our 390th day back in Iraq.
I have no news of U.S. casualties.
As of my start in writing the blog, the Cost of War
has passed through:
As regular Ask A Vet correspondent TriSec is out, I thought that I would assemble a few stories for you. As a non-veteran, I have found this blog to be a good source of information about the military and veterans, with both distressing and heart warming stories.
We have heard a lot about delays in the Veterans Administration in delays in getting health care to veterans. The Huffington Post received a document that shows that nearly a third of those reported to be on a backlog have died
WASHINGTON -- More than 238,000 of the 847,000 veterans in the pending backlog for health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs have already died, according to an internal VA document provided to The Huffington Post.
Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA's Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta and a past whistleblower on the VA's failings, provided HuffPost with an April 2015 report titled "Analysis of Death Services," which reviews the accuracy of the VA's veteran death records. The report was conducted by staffers in the VA Health Eligibility Center and the VA Office of Analytics.
Flip to page 13 and you'll see some stark numbers. As of April, there were 847,822 veterans listed as pending for enrollment in VA health care. Of those, 238,657 are now deceased, meaning they died after they applied for, but never got, health care.
While the number is large -- representing nearly a third of those listed as pending -- some of the applicants may have died years ago. The VA has no mechanism to purge the list of dead applicants, and some of those applying, according to VA spokeswoman Walinda West, likely never completed the application, yet remain on the pending list anyway. West said the VA electronic health record system has been in place since 1985, suggesting some of the data may be decades old and some of those people may have gone on to use other insurance.
Meanwhile, Congress has three weeks to resolve a $3 billion hole in the VA budget
Congress has about three weeks left to sort out a $3 billion hole in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget or else risk shutting down some VA hospital operations.
Officials from the department and key congressional committees have said they're confident a plan can be worked out before the end of July, preventing any disruption in services to veterans.
But ongoing political squabbles over problems with VA and unrelated budget fights could sideline the work, creating significant problems for patients.
The department first requested a funding fix for the budget gap three weeks ago, but has yet to see progress on the issue on Capitol Hill.
On Monday, VA officials submitted their latest update to the plan for shifting existing funds to cover shortfalls in the department's Care in the Community program — outsourced medical care for veterans — and for underfunded hepatitis C treatments.
Together, the two items have already pulled more than $2.5 billion from other VA accounts, including money previous assigned to clinical salaries, medical equipment and operational requirements.
"If these program funds are not restored, VA will face shutting down hospital operations during August 2015," VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson warned in a letter to lawmakers accompanying the funding proposals.
Several of you may have heard of the new nominee for the Joint Chiefs of Staff declaring that Russia is a major threat to the U.S
. I suspect that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies are going to be concerned about a report that the U.S.may soon train the Ukrainian army
About 305 U.S. troops are currently in western Ukraine conducting training for Ukraine's Interior Ministry forces, called national guardsmen, who operate checkpoints and perform other military tasks but are not front-line combat troops.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, which is based in Germany, told reporters at thePentagon that a training program for regular Ukrainian army soldiers is under review.
"It's got to be something that Ukraine and the U.S. and other participating nations would all agree on," Hodges said, adding that it would be similar to the kinds of training now provided to national guardsmen near Lviv, close to the Polish border. Elements could include defense against electronic warfare, including communications intercepts and the kinds of jamming that Russian forces allegedly are conducting in the east of the country.
He said the U.S. trainers also are learning from the Ukrainians.
"None of us have ever been under Russian artillery and rocket fire like the Ukrainians have," he said.
In addition to the concerns about the VA and deployment of military force, there are always individuals who try to take advantage of veterans and those who care about them. The Military Times reports that two people in California are facing prison terms for running a fake charity
SAN DIEGO — A couple that ran a tax-exempt school to train wounded Marines for jobs in the movie industry were convicted Friday of conspiracy, fraud and theft.
Kevin Lombard, 64, and Judith Paixao, 61, could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
The U.S. attorney's office said that from 2007 to 2009, the Brunswick, Georgia, couple ran the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation in San Diego. The school charged up to $88,000 for a 10-week course.
Graduates were supposed to receive a union card with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provided $1.2 million in vocational rehabilitation funding for dozens of wounded Marine veterans to take the classes. Authorities say some of the promised equipment and training wasn't provided, and some of the money was diverted to the couple's personal use, including fancy meals, a Bermuda vacation and a sailing trip around San Diego Bay.
"These defendants capitalized on the misfortune of wounded marines in their time of vulnerability and took advantage of the VA's commitment to serving wounded veterans to defraud the VA and enrich themselves," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement
Despite the grim news, there is much good news to share about veterans. Military suicides are down from this time last year
Suicides among active-duty troops dropped in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same time in both 2013 and 2014.
Tempering that good news: The Army, alone among the services, saw an increase, accounting for more than half the total number of service members who died by their own hand from January to March, according to Defense Department data released Friday.
Over that span, 57 active-duty troops — 30 soldiers, 14 airmen, 10 sailors and three Marines — died by suicide, a 22 percent decline from the first quarter of 2014 and a 7 percent drop from 2013's first quarter.
But while the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps all saw lower death tolls, the Army's increase totaled 11 percent from the first quarters of 2013 and 2014.
Army suicides have remained stubbornly high for the last two years despite an all-out effort by the service to emphasize suicide prevention and promote mental health treatment. The service also is in the midst of a personnel drawdown that should have an impact on the numbers, but has not.
The new DoD report also includes data for the first quarter of 2015 for the reserve components, which tallied 42 suicides, and the National Guard, which had 27.
The newly released report also includes updates on the number of suicides for 2014, when a total of 532 personnel killed themselves, including 273 active-duty members, 169 reservists and 90 guardsmen.
In other news, the U.S. has decided to lift a ban to soon allow transgender troops to serve openly
The Pentagon announced on Monday that it intends to lift the ban on transgender troops serving openly in the military.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the creation of a working group that will work over the next six months to study the implications of lifting the ban.
"At my direction, the working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified," Carter said.
Carter also announced a new policy elevating any decisions to discharge transgender troops up to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson.
"The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions," Carter said in a statement.
"Moreover, we have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit," he added.
While this is not military related, I feel that I would be remiss and showing disrespect to TriSec, in reposting a link shared yesterday: The Boy Scouts are taking steps to end the ban on gay leaders
I believe that this country and its institutions, including the U.S. military, are moving towards a new birth of freedom, where we realize that each of us are only secure in our own rights, security and dignity if all of us are secure in our own rights, security and dignity. Perhaps it will be said of our time that we strove to expand the values of our Declaration of Independence, namely the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to more people than ever before in our nation's history.