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Review of Accuracy of Reported Pending Disability Claims Backlog Statistics

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OIG 003


The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA’s) statistics related to pending disability claims to determine if it accurately reported its claims backlog. For reporting, VBA defines its backlog as rating claims pending greater than 125 days. VBA reported it had reduced its claims backlog from a peak of 611,000 in March 2013 to 70,537 at the end of May 2018. However, in earlier reports, the OIG identified instances in which VBA created new policies that resulted in unreliable performance measures, or that VBA staff took incorrect actions that misrepresented workload statistics. In this review, the OIG found that VBA’s reported backlog did not include all claims from October 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016, that were awaiting rating decisions for more than 125 days. The OIG estimated VBA completed about 63,600 of these claims that were not counted as part of the backlog. As a result, the OIG estimated that, in its completed backlog, VBA only reported about 79 percent of the claims that required rating decisions that took over 125 days. Although VBA has reported significant reductions in its backlog, the OIG found that what the backlog represented was not always clearly defined, possibly resulting in significant understating. Also, VBA’s prioritization of its backlog resulted in delays in processing other claims, even if they were older and required rating decisions. Finally, inaccurate claims characteristics impaired VBA’s ability to manage its workload causing even further processing delays. The OIG recommended the Under Secretary for Benefits consider revising which claims are included in VBA’s reported disability claims backlog and provide a clear definition to all stakeholders. In addition, the OIG recommended the Under Secretary for Benefits implement a plan to provide consistent oversight and training of Claims Assistants through national performance and training plans.


Vallejo wins Defense Department contract to make Mare Island Naval Cemetery repairs

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Mare Island Cemetery


The Department of Defense has approved an application by the City of Vallejo to begin planning initial repairs to the Mare Island Naval Cemetery, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson announced Thursday.

Work will include repairing or replacing fencing, installing a flagpole, and repairing the damaged drainage system, according to the announcement.

These improvements will be done through the DOD’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program, which is designed to provide training for reserve forces while also bettering local communities through medical or engineering support, Thompson’s office said.

“This is an exciting announcement that provides a plan to begin repairs on the Mare Island Cemetery and an important step toward giving our fallen heroes the final resting place they deserve,” Thompson (D-St. Helena) said. “It also highlights the work still to be done to fully restore the cemetery and I will continue fighting for every possible avenue that will allow us to complete this important task.”

The City of Vallejo applied for assistance with these engineering projects through the IRT program and was approved through support by Thompson, who has been championing restoration of the cemetery, including with a bill to transfer the cemetery’s control to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Thompson’s bill to help restore the cemetery has more than 70 Democrat and Republican cosponsors and is supported by five major Veterans service organizations, his staff says.

A companion bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein is also working its way through the senate.

The IRT work wouldn’t likely begin until late 2019, subject to the availability of the IRT unit, further cost negotiations with the city, and other necessary advance work, including environmental reviews, Thompson’s office said.

Those months during which the cemetery can further deteriorate is the bad news portion of this announcement, said Ralph Parrott, the retired Virginia-based retired Navy captain whose chance day trip to the island sparked the effort to get it restored and maintained.

It was then that Parrott, having found the cemetery to be in a condition unfit to be the final resting place of the more than 800 service members and their families, including three Medal of Honor recipients buried there, launched an effort to rectify the situation. Through some investigation, Parrott learned that when the Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed in 1998, the Navy transferred the property to the City of Vallejo, with no mechanism in place for its upkeep. A cadre of inadequately funded volunteers have been fighting a losing battle to maintain the site for 20 years.

“They’re going to put in a flagpole and do something about drainage, but with the caveat that the city must pay for materials,” Parrott said of the IRT effort. “But, it’s not going to start ‘till next year, and our chances of getting the bill passed this year (suffered) with the objections from the VA.”

A VA spokesman recently testified in a Congressional committee hearing that transferring the MINC to his department’s care would set a bad precedent, and possibly encourage other jurisdictions to abdicate their responsibilities to local military graveyards.

Parrott and local effort champion retired U.S. Army Col. Nestor Aliga said they’re redoubling their efforts to get more California lawmakers to sign on to the bill to try to get it passed this year.

“We need to get everyone nationwide to sign our online letter that urges their representatives and senators to urgently cosponsor H.R.5588 and S.2881, today,” Aliga said.

“We need your urgent help. The House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs) will hold a Legislative Hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018 and unfortunately our H.R.5588 — to transfer the Mare Island Naval Cemetery to the Veterans Affairs — is NOT yet on their list,” according to a letter Aliga sent out to as many Veterans organizations as he could. “Note that (this week), only 26 out of our 53 California Representatives have cosponsored H.R.5588. It is possible that (they) have NOT even heard about H.R.5588. We especially need to contact House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) because they can quickly mobilize their colleagues to cosponsor.”

The letter urges Veterans to call or write their Representatives and “to urge the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs to include H.R5588 on their Legislative Hearing on Sept. 5, 2018.”

He suggested they be asked to “please cosponsor today H.R.5588 to transfer the dilapidated Mare Island Naval Cemetery, the oldest military cemetery on the west coast, to the Veterans Affairs and please urge the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs to include H.R5588 on their Legislative Hearing on Sept. 5.”

He included the following links for that purpose: and


VA to Add Medical Staff After 'Rust and Blood' Found on Surgical Instruments

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Rusty Surgical Instruments


At the Manchester, New Hampshire, VA Medical Center last year, surgeries were canceled when debris that appeared to be "rust and blood" was found on instruments doctors were about to use.

At the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center last year, the staff ran out of sterilized instruments, and even bone marrow, and had to borrow them from neighboring hospitals.

At the Cincinnati VA Medical Center in 2016, inspectors found that the system was failing to provide doctors with equipment that was "free of bioburden [bacteria], debris, or both."

At the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, 83 surgeries were cancelled in 2016 because of fly infestations in operating rooms.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, a medical doctor and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he found it amazing that the Veterans Health Administration within the VA was struggling to fulfill the "most basic function" of its hospitals: "to make sure you have sterile equipment."

"It's astonishing to me," Roe said at a hearing Wednesday before the Subcommittee On Oversight and Investigations.

Roe, who served two years in the Army Medical Corps, said he had performed or assisted in thousands of surgeries.

"I never even thought about it, was the equipment going to be sterile that I'm using today?" he said.

In response, Dr. Teresa Boyd, the VA's assistant under secretary for Health for Clinical Operations, acknowledged the problem but pointed to mitigating data on the surgical site infection rate.

Of the more than 424,000 surgeries scheduled at the VA in the past year, only 0.8 percent had to be cancelled because of concerns with equipment sterility, Boyd said. At the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, the rate was 1.09 percent.

That compared with surgical site infections rates of 1.41 percent nationally, and 1.9 percent in industry, she said.

However, Dr. John Daigh, Jr., assistant inspector general for Healthcare Inspections at the VA's Office of Inspector General, said there was still cause for concern regarding the VA's protocol for sterile equipment and ensuring the same standards across all its facilities.

The sterile equipment issue at the VA has been a recurring problem dating back to at least 2009 and has been documented in numerous reports from the Government Accountability Office, the VA's Office of Inspector General, the VHA's Office of Medical Inspector, and verified whistleblower complaints.

In 2009, more than 10,000 Veterans at VA facilities in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee were put at risk for hepatitis because of concerns over the sterility of instruments used for colonoscopies.

Hospital officials at the time reported that tubing for endoscopes used repeatedly in the procedures had been rinsed but not disinfected.

At the hearing, Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Michigan, the subcommittee's chairman and a retired Marine lieutenant general, charged that failures in VA leadership allowed "safety protocols to go unnoticed and uncorrected."

He said the VHA's central office was unaware that medical centers were failing to submit timely Sterile Procedure Services reports, "suggesting that blame goes all the way to the top."

Boyd said the issue was being addressed at all levels of the VA. She also concurred with the findings of recent GAO reports, and said that a shortage of SPS staff was a contributing factor.

Last week, the VA reported that there were about 40,000 job vacancies at the VHA.

"It is imperative that we have not only trained and experienced front line staff" but also the leadership to direct them, Boyd said.

Beth Taylor, a registered nurse and the VA's deputy assistant under secretary for Health and Clinical Operations, also stressed the need for more staff in Sterile Procedure Services. She said a report on hiring would be filed by December and a plan should be ready in about six months.

"[The] current governance structure [at the VA] is simply not getting the job done," Bergman said.

He cited the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center as the "poster child" for what has gone wrong at the VA in ensuring the provision of sterile equipment and operating rooms at its facilities.

The Washington VA center has been the subject of two scathing reports from the VA Office of Inspector General, released in 2017 earlier this year.

The latest IG report found "a culture of complacency among VA and Veterans Health Administration leaders at multiple levels who failed to address previously identified serious issues" at the Washington hospital and its two clinics.

"Veterans were put at risk because important supplies and instruments were not consistently available in patient care areas," the IG report said.

It added that equipment rooms where supplies were kept were filthy.

In his second week on the job in early August, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie visited the Washington facility, where he was told that plans were in place for "assuring reliable availability and sterilization of instruments for surgical procedures."

"We had a good visit today, and I appreciated hearing from facility and regional leadership on the important work that has been done to address the Inspector General's concerns, as well as plans for resolving all its remaining recommendations," Wilkie said in a statement following his visit.


14 things to know about Medicare Advantage Plans

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Medicare 002


  1. You're still in the Medicare Program.
  2. You still have Medicare rights and protections.
  3. You still get complete Part A and Part B coverage through the plan.
  4. Your out-of-pocket costs are typically lower in a Medicare Advantage plan. So, this option may be more cost effective for you.
  5. You can only join a plan at certain times during the year. In most cases, you're enrolled in a plan for a year.
  6. You can join a Medicare Advantage Plan even if you have a pre-existing condition, except for End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).
  7. You can check with the plan before you get a service to find out:
  8. Following plan rules, like getting a referral to see a specialist in the plan's network can keep your costs lower. Check with the plan.
  9. Go to a doctor, other health care provider, facility, or supplier that belongs to the plan's network, so your services are covered and your costs are less. In most cases, this applies to Medicare Advantage HMOs and PPOs.
  10. Providers can join or leave a plan’s provider network anytime during the year. Your plan can also change the providers in the network anytime during the year. If this happens, you may need to choose a new provider.
  11. If you join a clinical research study, some costs may be covered by your plan. Call your plan for more information. Get your plan's contact information from a Personalized Search (under General Search), or search by plan name.
  12. Medicare Advantage Plans can't charge more than Original Medicare for certain services like chemotherapy, dialysis, and skilled nursing facility care.
  13. Medicare Advantage Plans have a yearly limit on your out-of-pocket costs for medical services. Once you reach this limit, you’ll pay nothing for covered services. Each plan can have a different limit, and the limit can change each year. You should consider this when choosing a plan.
  14. If the plan decides to stop participating in Medicare, you'll have to join another Medicare health plan or return to Original Medicare.
  • If it's covered
  • What your costs may be


Report: The United States Air Force Is Too Small

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AF Too Small


The United States Air Force is too small to meet the security challenges that meet the nation, a new study conducted by the RAND Corporation has found.

In the unipolar moment that followed the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, American conventional military dominance allowed the Pentagon to assume some risks in force readiness and capability requirements for conflict with a major power while it undertook various open-ended “peace enforcement” and counterinsurgency operations. But in an era where the United States faces the threat of a rapidly rising China and a resurgent Russia, the findings are especially concerning.

“That unipolar era is rapidly coming to an end as both Russia and China field increasingly capable forces and become more willing to use force to pursue foreign policy goals,” RAND researchers Alan J. Vick, Paul Dreyer and John Speed Meyers wrote. “Today, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) must meet combatant commander demands and simultaneously improve its capabilities to defeat major powers.”

Air Force leaders have long been aware that their service has essentially been engaged in continual low-level warfare since the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 with no respite in sight. The Air Force has attempted to mitigate the severe impact of such a high optempo on its men and materiel, but those fixes—such as the Air Expeditionary Force construct—were only temporary fixes. But now the Air Force is nearing the breaking point.

“Although service leaders and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been increasingly candid and direct about the readiness and retention problems caused by overtasking and under resourcing of the military, as of May 2018 there appears to be no significant reduction in demand on the horizon,” the authors of the study noted.

The RAND researchers examined four potential future scenarios to make their assessment—two Cold War-type scenarios, a peace enforcement scenario and a counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency type scenario. The Air Force had serious shortfalls in every scenario that RAND assessed.

“No USAF aircraft class in the FY17 force can be considered robust across all four futures,” the authors wrote. “There is no formal threshold for robustness, but it seems reasonable to expect the force to meet at least 80 percent of demands in every future (green in our charts). No aircraft class did that. Fighter aircraft came the closest, meeting 93 percent or more of demands in three futures and 64 percent in the remaining. C3ISR/BM platforms, reflecting their small fleets and high demand, are the least robust across the four futures, meeting 84 percent of demands in one future but only 29 percent to 63 percent in the others. Tanker aircraft are particularly interesting, because they were highly robust (90 percent or more demands met) across three of the futures but met only 32 percent of the demands for the Peace Enforcement future.”

The RAND study found that out of the all of the scenarios, ones where the service is forced to commit to prolonged open-ended conflicts do the most damage to readiness. Indeed, the study showed marked improvements where deployments were capped.

“Operations that last more than a year place great demands on force structure,” the authors wrote. “In the analytical excursions in which we limited contingencies to no more than one year in duration, we found large improvements in the percentage of contingency demands met. With contingencies capped, the USAF FY17 force was able to meet 80 percent or more of demands in 25 of the 32 cases that we examined (8 classes of aircraft × 4 futures), and there were no cases in which it met fewer than 68 percent of demands. Finally, with contingencies capped at one year, there were eight cases in which the force met 100 percent of demands. In contrast, when contingencies were not capped, there were only 14 cases in which the FY17 force met 80 percent or more of demands and only one case in which 100 percent of demands were met. The other 18 cases had significant, and at times extreme, deficiencies.”

Neither the U.S. Air Force nor the Defense Department have the power to dictate how long the nation will be engaged in war—that is up to policymakers at the cabinet level and the White House. But military leaders can be more vocal about the demands being placed on the troops.

“Operations become prolonged because objectives change, because objectives turn out to be more difficult to achieve than initially anticipated, or because of adversary actions,” the RAND authors note. “USAF leaders have little, if any, control over these factors. That said, armed with this evidence that prolonged operations are a driver of capacity shortfalls, USAF leaders can advocate for more force structure, develop alternative force presentation models that may more efficiently use existing forces, and, perhaps, nudge National Security Council principals and the President to be more aware of the risks and costs of prolonged operations.”

However, given that the United States foreign policy establishment in Washington is essentially addicted to foreign military interventions, the only real fix is to expand the Air Force both in terms of manpower and materiel. It is simple not possible to sustain the current pace of operations with a force this small.


#Veterans #military #employment #airforce

Troops beware: New security clearance rules could bite you

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Security Clearance Rules


More service members could be at risk of losing their security clearances if they don’t keep on top of their finances, because of changes in rules for the security clearance process, according to advocates.

Under the new guidelines, officials will conduct “continuous” monitoring of federal employees who have roles in national security, including service members. Historically, individuals were up for periodic reviews every five to 10 years, depending on the type of clearance. The new, continuous evaluation will include a system that automatically pulls data on workers’ financial and criminal records, and, eventually, data from social media.

“This new process might impact your DoD security clearance and prevent you from being deemed ‘deployable,’ which could greatly impact your military career unless you can prove to DoD that you were the victim of identity theft, fraud or a mistake, and that you’re currently living within your means and are making a good-faith effort to resolve your unpaid debts,” stated a recent blog from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Under the previous system, service members and other individuals had more time to address financial issues after they arose, said Anthony Kuhn, an attorney with Tully Rinckey PLLC, who has extensive experience helping service members navigate problems involving security clearance suspensions and revocations.

With the longer time between investigations, service members had time to catch up and put payment plans in place, and deal with late payments or missed payments, Kuhn said.

“But under the new system, they’re going to have to face the consequences of those late payments or missed payments quicker than they would have.”

Kuhn noted that there were well over 2,000 appeals related to security clearances heard by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals in 2017, and of the 13 adjudicative guidelines for security clearances, financial considerations alone accounted for more than 50 percent of the cases heard.

“I expect that number is going to jump exponentially,” he said.

There will be more financial consideration cases, and service members “will have a more difficult time mitigating the government’s concerns in dealing with whatever issues arise.”

The shift to a more automated system, Kuhn said, is partly to help deal with the backlog of security clearance investigations, but “ironically ... it’s actually going to create a larger backlog of cases, because more people are going to have to litigate to retain their security clearance.”

Over the next three years, the Defense Department will take responsibility for all background investigations involving military and DoD civilian employees and contractors.

Defense Department officials did not immediately have information on whether DoD has started the continuous evaluation process — or about how often the “continuous” monitoring will be conducted, or what could trigger the process to revoke a clearance. For example, would a bankruptcy automatically trigger it? How about being 60 days late paying a utility bill?

“Basically, it’s really probably going to boil down to whether service members are living outside of their means,” said Kuhn.

A financial flag could be as simple as being unable to pay taxes due, Kuhn said. He gave the example of owing more money than anticipated when filing the taxes.

“Unless you quickly enter into a payment plan and can show a pattern of repayment, your taxes alone could end up causing you to fight to maintain your security clearance,” he said.

Kuhn expects mechanisms to continue for individuals to respond to the government’s concerns, which usually begin with “interrogatories” from an investigator.

“As far as I know, they’ll have the same due process protections,” he said, including the ability to appeal a decision to revoke the clearance.

“But there will be a lot more financial consideration cases that the [Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals] will have to deal with, and [individuals] will have a more difficult time mitigating the government’s concerns in dealing with whatever issues arise,” he said.

“The big thing to consider here is there’s much less expectation for privacy for service members or even federal employees with these security clearances because it’s a matter of national security, so the government tends to be able to get past that expectation of privacy.

“There definitely will be a lot more monitoring.”

Advice to service members

  • Don’t procrastinate. “If you know you’re going to be late on a bill, you should call your creditor,” Kuhn said. See if you can work out a payment plan, such as tacking on that payment to the end of the payment schedule. “Don’t wait. If you wait, that’s what your clearance is going to be revoked for. If you’re making a good faith effort to pay back the debt, and to keep your debt current, and you’re at least requesting and working on entering into a good payment plan, then I don’t see any reason why the clearance would be revoked," Kuhn said.
  • .Monitor your finances. Check your accounts frequently to make sure no one is stealing from your bank accounts or credit card accounts, for example.
  • Check your credit reports. You’re entitled to one free report each year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), through the website You can spread these three reports out through the year. Make sure the information is accurate, and quickly start to address any errors.
  • Keep tabs on your credit score, which compiles information from your credit reports about your creditworthiness. Service members and spouses can get a free credit score provided by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation, by contacting a personal financial manager on your nearest installation.
  • Consider putting a freeze on your credit reports, which keeps prospective lenders from gaining access to your credit information in order to open credit in your name — unless you lift that freeze. Active duty members who are deployed can also ask for a special “active-duty alert,” which requires creditors to take extra steps before granting credit in the service member’s name.
  • If you have difficulty in clearing up errors on your credit report, submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Two of the most reported issues to CFPB by service members, Veterans and their families are problems with credit reporting and debt collection, according to CFPB.


#Veterans #military #employment #security

Ask A Veteran: What Can I Tell A Young Person Who Wants To Enlist?

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Ask A Vet 002


Welcome to Ask A Veteran, a place for civilians (or anyone!) to ask questions about the military or Veterans issues.

Alex asks: I teach social studies in a public high school in NYC. I did not serve. Many of my students see military service as their only chance to change their prospects for the future. They idealize the benefits the recruiters describe without, I fear, giving real thought to what comes with their signature. I’m looking for some questions to ask kids (and their parents/extended family, who are often supportive of enlistment) to get them to contextualize what they’re signing up for and to get them to be thoughtful about what military service would likely mean for them.

First, allow me to applaud your dedication to your students. Anyone brave enough to face teenagers every day and still care about their future is someone who should walk tall in this forum. You live life in constant danger of being owned by those Juul-wielding savages and somehow are still invested in their betterment as people. I salute you.

Now, on to the matter hand: If my read on your question is correct, you are trying to approach this matter with sensitivity and an open mind, but the underlying vibe I get is, “How can I convince these kids not to sign up for military service?” Of course, given the lack of interest and accountability in the Forever War from our government (and, by extension, the American populace), your concern is not unfounded. You’re also right to be skeptical of recruiters; they are under enormous pressure to meet their recruitment quotas, and that pressure manifests in selling dreams that often go unfulfilled.

But consider, for a moment, the benefits of military service that your students find appealing. An enlistment bonus? It may be more money than that student has ever seen before — and possibly more than the family has ever seen before (which may explain the parental support for enlistment). Money for college? Frankly, going through college as an adult on the G.I. Bill seems to me like a better recipe for success than starting to accrue student loan debt at age 18.

I am, admittedly, a tainted source on this matter. My father, an Air Force pilot, was the first person in my family to graduate from college thanks to the military. I went to an expensive university not because my family had money, but because I had four years of my life to give to the Marines. I grew up believing that the military was a way for bright people from humble roots to gain entry into the middle class, and because I am able to look back on the benefits it gave me — tenacity, courage, confidence, character — I am unable to discourage others from the path.

Back to your students. We mustn’t forget the strongest siren song of all: The promise of adventure and world travel. This promise can deliver, or it can bite you in the ass. Or both. I often joke that the Marine Corps gave me a tour of the world’s deserts, but the specifics are more interesting than the punchline they serve. For three years, I lived a ten-minute drive from Joshua Tree National Park; the Mojave is mountainous and full of hardy plant life that erupts in color during the short spring when the hard rains release the smell of creosote. I spent the month after 9/11 in the Western Desert of Egypt — long flat stretches of brown sand punctuated by rock formations that were both easier and harder to navigate than the Mojave, depending on your map skills. In Kuwait, where we staged before the invasion of Iraq, the only feature was the horizon. Kuwait can go eat shit.

And that still only scratches the surface of what I saw and learned in four years. I lived in Kentucky and developed a taste for bourbon thanks to the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox. I’ve been to Australia with the best friends I’ll ever have; we taught locals the dice game Ship, Captain, Crew. I’ve crossed the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans on Navy ships. I’ve flown in helicopters and driven tanks and landed on a beach in a hovercraft. I can hit a man-sized target from 500 yards with an M16 using only iron sights. What might a civilian life have offered me out of college? Safety, I suppose. But less of everything that was vibrant and meaningful, and nothing that made me who I am today.

I do not mean to whitewash the danger. It is a deadly job even in peacetime. A good friend of mine, John Wilt, a lieutenant who was my classmate both in high school and at the Marines’ Basic Officer Course, was killed in an aircraft accident when he was at flight school. One of my Marines was airlifted from Twentynine Palms to the Naval Medical Center at Balboa after he got his head partially crushed during routine maintenance of an Abrams tank; he lived after surgeons cut open his skull to relieve the swelling from his brain.

Combat is worse, of course. I have the benefit of hindsight about my experience because I didn’t get shot in the head like my buddy Brian McPhillips. I have the luxury of nostalgia because, unlike my friend Andy Stern, my life didn’t end with an IED exploding in my face. My lot in life is to go around repeating their names to people who can never know them. As my body gives way to middle age, their names are as familiar and well-worn as a rosary, but their pictures always stop me in my tracks. The youth of the dead is breathtaking, and I can barely believe that I stood shoulder to shoulder with them — that I was ever so young, and believed myself invincible.

You said you were looking for questions to ask kids that would “get them to contextualize what they’re signing up for.” But I’m not sure that’s possible. How can you give young people wisdom without experience? They will be drawn to the military the way I was drawn to it — for the benefits, yes, but also to fill a hole inside them, a deep-seated craving to challenge and prove themselves. They will be drawn to service knowing, intellectually, that it is dangerous, but without really believing that the danger can touch them. Their peers will drive recklessly or do drugs or similarly dangerous things, and none of them will ever believe that harm can come to them. It is a feature of youth, not a bug.

I do not wish to discourage your noble effort, but I don’t want you tilting at windmills, either. I will leave you, and your students, with the best reflection I have on my military service: It is a wonderful thing to have done, but it was often miserable to do. Or, more succinctly: It is a great thing to do with your life — if it doesn’t kill you.


Secretary Wilkie Statement on the Passing of Senator John McCain

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Robert Wilkie 002


On behalf our nation’s Veterans, we are all saddened by the passing of one of America’s great warriors. Senator John McCain’s life of courage and sacrifice continued a legacy of selfless service begun by his family over one hundred years ago.

He will be missed by all of those who have worn the uniform and all of those who love America. Senator McCain and his family are in the thoughts and prayers of America’s Veterans.


Des Moines doctor says VA made him a 'scapegoat' and fired him because of political pressure

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"Political pressure" forced the Des Moines Veterans hospital to renege on a deal that allowed a longtime physician to quietly retire amid allegations of incompetence, a newly filed federal lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, filed by primary care physician Dr. Ashok Manglik of Des Moines, accuses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, facing “political” pressure in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, of deciding to purge from its ranks all physicians alleged to be incompetent — including him.

The lawsuit claims the alleged effort was triggered by “relentless nationwide criticism” over allegations that doctors accused of incompetence by some VA hospitals had not been reported to state and national licensing authorities.

Manglik says that in late 2016 he inquired why his pay increase at the Veterans Affairs Central Iowa Health Care System was less than some of his colleagues'. Manglik pointed out that he had been employed by the VA for 19 years.

Four days later, he alleges, the hospital informed him he was effectively fired, with his privileges summarily suspended.

Court records show the hospital informed Manglik of this action in a letter that said his clinical practice had “so significantly failed” to meet generally accepted standards it raised “reasonable concern for the safety of patients.”

In a hospital “Proficiency Report” on Manglik, the hospital’s chief of staff wrote: ”I have significant concerns about (Manglik’s) clinical competence. … Nearly 100 patients have requested another MD in the last year.”

Manglik appealed the hospital’s actions and in October 2017 reached a settlement with the hospital, agreeing to leave in exchange for $5,000 and a promise that his departure would be treated as a retirement and his personnel file would be purged of any reference to discipline or termination.

A lawyer for the VA later assured Manglik’s attorney that in the future, if prospective employers or other individuals were to contact the VA about Manglik, the hospital would say he retired and “that is all they would say and nothing more,” records show.

After the deal was signed, however, the hospital allegedly informed the Iowa Board of Medicine and the National Practitioner Data Bank that Manglik had resigned while under investigation.

In his lawsuit, Manglik alleges this was done “solely to meet the desperate national agency’s need to offset the relentless criticism of the agency for failing to report deficiencies.”

Manglik claims he was “a convenient and timely scapegoat to improve the agency’s statistics as quickly as possible after the election.”

In a sworn affidavit accompanying the lawsuit, Manglik said that by pursuing a deal that would allow him to retire, he was able to preserve his health insurance and collect retirement income that otherwise wouldn’t have been available.

“I have temporary employment which is now jeopardized, but my ability to transfer, or to see other opportunities, have been destroyed,” Manglik said.

The hospital hasn't file a response to the lawsuit.


Vietnam War memorial vandalized in San Jose

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VN War Mem Vandalized


SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - A vandal in San Jose has defaced a memorial dedicated to honor local fallen heroes of the Vietnam War. The “Sons of San Jose” memorial is located on West Santa Clara Street, near the SAP Center.

Whoever defaced the memorial used some sort of paint, that's etched into the black granite. It will likely cost thousands of dollars to restore it back to its original state.

Mike Salas served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He’s part of the San Jose War Memorial Foundation, which helped erect the monument.

“These are sacred grounds,” said Salas. “This is where people come to have closure and it should be left alone.”

Salas rushed over Sunday morning as soon as he heard a vandal tagged the front panel sometime overnight Saturday.

“If they only understood the cost of freedom and the cost of courage that these men died for so they can be out here, they wouldn't touch it,” said Salas.

Dennis Fernandez is the foundation's president. He also served in Vietnam in the U.S. Army. He said, the memorial was erected in 2013 to recognize 142 servicemen from San Jose. It cost almost half a million dollars from in-kind donations.

“I’m hurt both for all the work that's been put into it and for not respecting those people that are on that wall and their families who are still here. It's a slap in the face,” said Fernandez.

The vandalism comes as the country is in mourning over the passing of Senator John McCain, a celebrated Vietnam War hero.

“I don't think there's any correlation between the two,” said Fernandez. “I just think it's some gang bangers. They knew that was facing the street. My guess is that they don't even know there was a Vietnam War. “

Eight of the fallen were classmates of Salas's and Fernandez’s at San Jose High School. The foundation hopes to have it repaired by Veteran’s Day.

“When I look at this, I’m representing the names,” said Salas. “I get angry inside. It hurts.”

Two years ago, a vandal slapped red paint on the memorial costing $3,000 to fix it. Anyone who wants to help donate can contact the foundation at


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