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Author: TriSec    Date: 03/15/2016 09:46:52

Good Morning.

Once again, I seem to have a couple of older stories that were worth holding on to, so we'll dive right in.

We'll start today on the business end of war. A certain previous vice-president made a killing with his side businesses during the last iteration of the war in Iraq. After he rode off into the sunset, the name "Halliburton" pretty much faded out of the headlines. But they're back this past month - seems like without war, Halliburton isn't much of a self-sustaining company.

The shrinking of the oil industry picked up speed this week after Halliburton Co. announced it’s cutting another 5,000 workers, or 8 percent of its remaining global workforce, to survive a lengthening crude market downturn.

The world’s second-largest oilfield services provider said last month it cut nearly 4,000 jobs in the final three months of 2015 and indicated more could come this quarter. With the latest layoffs, the Houston-based provider of drilling and hydraulic fracturing services will have let go nearly 29,000 workers, or more than a quarter of its headcount since staffing reached its peak in late 2014. Emily Mir, a spokeswoman, confirmed the additional cuts Thursday in an e-mailed statement.

The oilfield service providers were the first to feel the pain when crude prices began falling in the middle of 2014. The sector continues to be most heavily impacted after customers slashed more than $100 billion in spending last year, with promises of more cuts to come. Earlier this week Saudi Arabia oil minister Ali al-Naimi called on high-cost producers to "lower costs, borrow cash or liquidate" in comments at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

"We regret having to make this decision but unfortunately we are faced with the difficult reality that reductions are necessary to work through this challenging market environment," Mir said.

The oil industry has cut more than 250,000 jobs globally, with the largest chunk coming from service providers, to keep up with tumbling oil prices, which are down about 70 percent over the past year and a half due to an oversupply of crude.

On Wednesday, a day after Saudi’s Naimi ruled out a production cut by the nation, two Bakken shale producers announced they were halting work to complete wells.

Continental Resources Inc., the shale oil pioneer controlled by billionaire wildcatter Harold Hamm, halted all fracking in the Bakken shale formation in the U.S. Williston Basin after posting its first annual loss since the company’s public debut in 2007. Whiting Petroleum Corp. estimates it will leave 73 unfinished wells in the region by year-end, and another 95 in the Niobrara shale area in the Denver-Julesburg Basin.

The 15 companies in the Philadelphia Oil Service Index have collectively lost more than half their value since the downturn began in June 2014, compared to a 1 percent drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index in the same period.

And speaking of things from the past, you could be forgiven for thinking you've had a time-travel accident after reading this next story. What are we, back in 2004?

WASHINGTON -- Sean Matson, who recently left active duty as a Navy SEAL, said the military measured his head four times -- each time before deployment -- with plans to provide him a more advanced ballistic helmet.

But the new helmet never materialized. During a deployment in Africa, Matson and six of his fellow SEALs each shelled out about $900 for updated helmets that held the lights, communications devices and batteries needed for their missions.

"There was never a clear solution to it, so guys were going out spending $800-$900 on their own ballistic helmet," said Matson, who is now CEO of the military supply company Matbock.

Elite troops such as the SEALs are more and more forced to dip into their own pockets to purchase basic military gear such as helmets, global positioning devices and medical supplies, according to Matson and others involved in the military's unofficial civilian-side supply network who came to Capitol Hill on Thursday.

House lawmakers have taken notice and said they will request an explanation from Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

"These are the guys we assume have the best gear all the time," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, a Marine Corps combat veteran.

Hunter said special operations troops have been approaching him in his California district complaining about the inability to get needed materials and he has been investigating the issue.

Numerous individual instances point to a systemic problem in the military's supply chain, but a blind spot exists between Defense Department vendors and the troops who need the gear and supplies, Hunter said.

"It's been impossible for me to find out how the money is getting stopped and why it is not going down to where it's supposed to be," he said.

Aaron Negherbon is the executive director of the nonprofit group Troops Direct, which ships needed and requested supplies -- from boot laces to tablet devices -- to service members who cannot get it through their commands.

Less than two days after the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, Negherbon said he was contacted by the commander of a Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team that was being deployed there.

The commander told him the team lacked a variety of crucial equipment, including sniper supplies, he said.

"They came to us for ... batteries because they didn't have any of those. ... It is kind of like, 'What the heck is going on?' " Negherbon said.

He said troops often have to buy their own medical equipment such as tourniquets, and shell out about $1,000 each for their own helmets or $500 for a GPS device that they need for duty during a deployment.

"The question is, why can't you get this?" Negherbon said.

We'll finish up today with a visit to the VA. It seems like it's in a cycle again; every now and then, something bubbles up to the top of the pot, everyone expresses outrage, then it disappears from the headlines. The current administration has spent almost all of its eight years trying to fix inherited problems; there have been some successes, but I'd have to say mostly not. There's still an ongoing struggle to deal with the appointment and care backlog, and there are more numbers to back that up. Ponder for a minute that 300,000 soldiers dying in combat would be considered a catastrophe.

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed Monday that it failed to contact tens of thousands of the more than 800,000 veterans who have applications for health care pending, nearly 300,000 of whom died before getting a resolution.

VA is required by law to notify veterans of incomplete applications but could not verify that this had been done in the cases of 545,000 living veterans and 288,000 deceased veterans with pending claims. It was unclear Monday whether the veterans and their families will qualify for compensation.

The findings, which were released Monday, are the result of a monthslong VA analysis published six months after a report for the Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General, which came up with similar conclusions.

In the report, the department calls the pending applications incomplete, putting the onus on the veterans to add information to their formal requests for health care.

Scott Davis, the whistleblower who first reported the problem of pending applications, said most of them were erroneously marked as incomplete because they called for an income test or were missing a military service record called DD214, which the VA specifically told applicants not to include.

"When we've done reviews before we have found that a high (number) of these veterans were because of mistakes by the VA, not the veteran," said Davis, a program manager at the VA's national enrollment office with an inside view of the enrollment system.

Davis called on the VA automatically to enroll veterans on the pending list who qualify and said the department is delaying because it could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to veterans who were wrongly deprived care.

"It's not because it can't work, it's because they don't want it to because it's going to cost a lot of money," he said.

Matthew Eitutis, who oversaw the analysis of the enrollment failings, said tens of thousands of veterans never received a follow-up inquiry about their applications.

Part of the problem is software that erroneously calls for the income test and an outdated requirement for a physical signature. Without those elements, applications are automatically listed as "incomplete" and the VA is working to overhaul its system.

But Eitutis said the VA doesn't have the legal authority to simply override the system and enroll veterans affected by those technicalities.

The VA will be reaching out by mail and phone to every veteran on the pending list and some of them likely will qualify for compensation, Eitutis said.

"We have not done what we should have done for years," he said.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said the VA now must now look to discipline senior leaders responsible for the breakdown in the enrollment system.

"While I'm glad VA is finally doing something to address this problem, I'm baffled as to why it took the department so long to acknowledge it," Miller said in a prepared release. "Whistleblowers have been complaining about this issue and others at the department's Health Eligibility Center for years, and at (the committee's) request VA's inspector general confirmed a huge backlog of pending health care applications in September of 2015."

So I have to wonder...as Obama's play clock runs out, and new presidents start to emerge from the shadows...will vets ever become a focus, or do they just continue to serve their purpose, die in war, and become props for the next guy?

8 comments (Latest Comment: 03/15/2016 18:27:12 by livingonli)
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