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Author: TriSec    Date: 01/23/2018 10:45:30

Good Morning.

So, the shutdown appears to have resolved itself, but the costs are still being worked out, both literal and figurative.

Fortunately, Veteran's Services are mostly immune to such things. While this story is now out-of-date, it's still useful to know for future reference.

The Department of Veterans Affairs — which runs more than 150 hospitals across the country — will remain open and largely unaffected by the federal government shutdown.

Certain claims processing departments of the VA may experience a slowdown. But its core functions — providing health care services to an estimated 9 million American veterans — are largely exempted from federal rules that require “nonessential” services to scale back or shut entirely.

The VA’s official shutdown plan notes that 96 percent of its 377,000 employees will continue to work through a government shutdown. That’s a significantly higher share than most other federal employees. Only 5 percent of Department of Education employees continue to work through a shutdown, for example, and 50 percent of Health and Human Services workers.

VA hospitals and clinics will remain open in the midst of a government shutdown, with patients able to keep their appointments or seek help in case of an emergency.

The reason the VA continues to operate normally has to do with the criteria the government uses to decide which functions are “essential” during a shutdown. Those criteria instruct agencies to keep running programs that are necessary to protect human life and property.

The VA’s role administering medical care means it easily fits into the category of protecting human life.

There are, however, some smaller functions of the VA that did slow down during the last government shutdown in 2013. The agency stopped processing disability claims during that 16-day closure. A federal report estimated that this “stalled weekly progress in reducing the backlog of veterans’ disability claims, which was previously being reduced at a rate of almost 20,000 claims per week.”

The same report found that certain call lines, meant to help veterans better understand their benefits, closed during the shutdown.

“Services that help veterans understand their benefits — including the education call center, hotlines, and all regional offices outreach activities — were closed to the public during the shutdown, and many veterans lost access to vocational rehabilitation and education counseling services,” the Office of Management and Budget report said.

But suppose the V.A. had shut down. I would then presume that in addition to no essential services, there also wouldn't be doctors prescribing unnecessary opioid medications. The national epidemic continues mostly unabated, but some elements of the V.A. have been making some progress.

New data shows veterans in the Dayton area are being prescribed far less opioids than they were five years ago.

The opioid prescribing rate at the Dayton VA Medical Center fell 44 percent over the last five years, according to data released this month by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The report showed that 20 percent of prescriptions from the Dayton VA were for opioids in 2012, compared to last year when about 11 percent of prescriptions were for opioids.

As the opioid overdose crisis continues to devastate the U.S. — fueling a record 560 drug overdose deaths in Montgomery County last year — the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has dramatically cut back on prescribing the painkillers.

The federal department’s opioid reduction initiative launched in 2012 and since then the VA’s overall prescribing rate dropped by 41 percent, according to newly released data that shows the opioid dispensing rate at each VA hospital.

By using alternatives like physical therapy, the VA is seeking to decrease the likelihood that veterans might become addicted to the powerful prescriptions, which is a risk factor of long-term opioid pain therapy.

“This isn’t something just happening at the VA, it’s happening across health care nationwide,” said Dr. Anne Venable, primary care physician at the Dayton VA Medical Center.

Overall, 99 percent of VA facilities have decreased prescribing rates since 2012.

Venable said the program is a reaction to the opioid overdose crisis, with four out of five heroin users starting out with prescription opioids.

“Opiates are not as beneficial for pain as we once thought and they are much more risky than we once thought,” she said.

Shifting gears, we'll take a look back in history. There may be a parallel here, but what it is isn't entirely clear to me yet. Fifty years ago today, North Korea boarded and captured a small US Navy vessel...the USS Pueblo. While it has never been forgotten by its crew and a certain subset of the population, it has for the most part faded from history. The ship itself is still afloat as a 'museum' ship in Pyongyang. Comparing the situation to today, it doesn't feel that much different from 1968...after a very tumultuous year already, one wonders what events are going to fall through the cracks in 2018?

The tale of the Pueblo begins in early January, 1968, when the crew set off from the U.S. Navy base on Yokosuka, Japan with orders to conduct surveillance on Soviet Navy and North Korean communication activity. The ship carried out its work without incident for the majority of the mission, with little to no resistance, as Commander Lloyd M. Bucher kept the vessel safely in international waters.

The problems began as the mission approached its close. First, a North Korean submarine chaser passed within some 4,000 yards of the Pueblo. Two days later, a pair of North Korean fishing trawlers came within 30 yards, while the "fishermen" looked on with binoculars and snapped photos.

"I'd never heard off any North Korean fishermen bringing cameras with them," McClintock said.

The following day, Jan. 23, another submarine chaser appeared, challenged the Pueblo, and ordered the crew to stand down. The Pueblo tried to outmaneuver the other ship, but another submarine chaser, four torpedo boats and two MiG-21 fighter jets joined the scene.

After a protracted chase, which the Americans insist occurred in international waters and which cost one Pueblo crewmember his life, the U.S. sailors signaled compliance, and began destroying any sensitive material.

"We had large, weighted bags for dumping documents," Don Peppard, an administrative assistant on the Pueblo and the president of the ship's veterans association, told Fox News. "The problem was that there were just too many documents for us to destroy in such a short time. The North Koreans got a lot of documents."

The North Korean also took all 82 surviving Pueblo crewmembers captive -- blindfolding them and binding their hands on the trip to the port of Wonson. They were then bused to Pyongyang, and kept as prisoners of war in two different camps: the "Barn" and the "Farm."

"We had no idea what was going to happen to us, but whatever it was, it didn't seem like it would be pleasant," Peppard said. "At that point I felt like my life wasn't going to be worth very much."

Finally today - I can finish up with a wee bit of good news. Raine can back me up on this one. I've spent many weekends camping at the magnificent West Point and touring the grounds. In this historic and spectacular setting along the Hudson River...history was made once again the other day.

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Two Army captains who met at West Point have returned there to be married, in what is believed to be the first same-sex marriage of active-duty personnel at the storied New York military academy.

The New York Times reports Captains Daniel Hall and Vincent Franchino were married on Jan. 13. They're both Apache helicopter pilots stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

The men met in August 2009, when Franchino was a freshman and Hall was a senior. Their first date was in February 2012 in Washington, some months after the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was repealed in September 2011. That policy, in place since 1993, barred any gay person from disclosing their sexual orientation or talking about any same-sex relationship.


27 comments (Latest Comment: 01/23/2018 21:58:24 by Raine)
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