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Friday, December 01, 2017

Afghanistan Veteran Awarded Medal of Honor Explains Beating PTSD and Finding Peace and Hope

The author, Florent Groberg, is seen here as an Army lieutenant flying over Afghanistan’s Konar province in 2012. He was awarded a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat valor award, after risking his life to minimize the fallout from a deadly suicide attack. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Alexis Ramos)


"WASHINGTON POST” By Florent Gronberg

“I realized sitting in my own hospital bed, having been injured by a suicide bomber, that no Taliban, no al-Qaeda, and no foreign fighter ever truly scared me.

What frightened me were the demons in my head left behind after that traumatic attack, and their relentless work to destroy my inner spirits and finish me off.”


_____________________________________________________________________

“The longest war in American history turns 16 years old — the anniversary of the first deployment of elite special operators to Afghanistan just weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history.

Back then our mission was clear, and the call to war was simple: We were going to take out Osama bin Laden, and shut down al-Qaeda’s safe haven for good.

For most American teenagers, a 16th birthday is a huge milestone, a joyful transition into the independence, freedom and opportunities that come with adulthood. But in war, these milestones operate in reverse. The longer they stretch on, the murkier our mission feels, the greater the sacrifice becomes, and the farther into the distance our original goals fade.
Most Americans, glad to be hitting back after being attacked on 9/11, never imagined how expansive this war would become, how many millions would ultimately deploy to fight it, that bin Laden would prove such an elusive target, or that this conflict would morph from a massive manhunt to an even greater struggle for Afghanistan’s nationhood and soul.
And no one would have believed 2,500 American lives — and even more Afghan allies — would be lost.

Americans look at these questions differently and from many perspectives — across our dining room tables and our political divides. Some think we have been there too long, some that victory is just around the corner. Some think we have a responsibility to put Afghanistan back together, others that we are doing more harm than good.
I’ve been a part of these conversations, and I’ve been one of the many confused about our mission. Until I deployed myself.

On the ground in Afghanistan, walking through the silvery moon dust that layers the mountain ridgelines and among ancient societies who carve their homes out of some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain, this war looks very different.
Instead of hostile barbarians, I found myself among hungry and hopeful people. Instead of hunting a terrorist, we hunted for a nation’s future.

Yes, we fought the Taliban, and we used overwhelming American strength to fight those who engaged us with hostility. But we spent much more time working to improve the living conditions for ordinary Afghans, to clear paths for children to safely go to school, to deliver electricity, clean water and basic human security.

I saw the best of humanity at work in Afghanistan through the sacrifices and bravery of the people we worked alongside.
I also saw the depths of evil. Acts of barbaric cruelty, Afghan against Afghan, and brother against brother. The Taliban are a merciless enemy, happy to kill scores of their own people if it was worth one American life.

What hits hardest from my time in Afghanistan is how many of us came home with wounds — physical and emotional.
I nearly became a statistic, one of the 20 veterans who takes his or her life every single day. But like my time in combat, I relied on my brothers and sisters around me. They never quit on me, they pushed me and guided me. They saved my life once in the mountains of Afghanistan and again in the hospital room of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Today, I work with the Boeing Co. to help veterans and their families land careers where they can use their rare and unique skills. Part of that process involves providing our veterans with the resources they need when they, too, are struggling, physically or emotionally. To me, the continuing legacy of this war resides in every job offered to a veteran, in every family reunited with their service member, and in every opportunity for peace that we create.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Florent Groberg is a retired Army captain, Medal of Honor recipient and author of “8 Seconds of Courage: A Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor,” to be released Nov. 7. He works at Boeing Co. as director of veterans outreach and defense, space and security strategy. On Twitter: @FlorentGroberg


https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/10/07/the-evil-in-afghanistan-drove-me-to-the-brink-of-suicide-heres-how-i-found-peace/




Sunday, October 01, 2017

Big Data At Its Best – POGO Federal Contractor Misconduct Data Base


THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT – POGO”

“We encourage you to visit our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, which currently contains 412 resolved and 121 pending instances of workplace-related misconduct by the federal government’s largest contractors.

The government’s top vendors have paid a collective total of $2.7 billion in fines, judgments, and settlements since 1996 for a wide variety of labor violations, including discrimination, health and safety hazards, unpaid wages, and whistleblower retaliation.

The vast majority of the labor misconduct instances in our database did not involve the federal government. About 54 percent were lawsuits filed by private parties, while another 7 percent were enforcement actions by local, state, and foreign governments. One instance we recently added is KBR’s $3.75 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by construction workers who alleged the company stiffed them on wages and meal breaks at a California mining facility.

The Trump administration’s efforts to roll back worker protections and oversight of contractors’ business practices could further shrink the percentage of labor instances involving Uncle Sam in our database. Nonetheless, at least for now, federal enforcers are still on the job. 

A few weeks ago, the National Nuclear Security Administration hit National Security Technologies, the managing contractor of the Nevada Test Site, with a proposed $112,500 fine for violations of worker safety and health requirements. In May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Exxon Mobil $164,775 for violations related to a November 2016 Baton Rouge refinery explosion that injured four workers.

A list of all resolved and pending labor misconduct instances in our database can be found at this link.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/09/celebrate-labor-day-by-diving-into-contractor-misconduct-data.html

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Military Kills Recruiting Contracts for Hundreds of Immigrant Recruits

Thirty-seven service members from 22 different countries take the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony held at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan on July 4, 2013. (Army/Sgt. Anita VanderMolen)  
"WASHINGTON POST"

"Many of these enlistees have waited years to join a troubled recruitment program designed to attract highly skilled immigrants into the service in exchange for fast-track citizenship.

U.S. Army recruiters have abruptly canceled enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born military recruits since last week, upending their lives and potentially exposing many to deportation, according to several affected recruits and former military officials familiar with their situation.


Now recruits and experts say that recruiters are shedding their contracts to free themselves from an onerous enlistment process, which includes extensive background investigations, to focus on individuals who can more quickly enlist and thus satisfy strict recruitment targets.
Margaret Stock, a retired Army officer who led creation of the immigration recruitment program, told The Washington Post that she has received dozens of frantic messages from recruits this week, with many more reporting similar action in Facebook groups. She said hundreds could be affected.
“It’s a dumpster fire ruining people’s lives. The magnitude of incompetence is beyond belief,” she said. “We have a war going on. We need these people.”
The nationwide disruption comes at a time when President Trump navigates a political minefield, working with Democrats on the fate of “dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children — while continuing to stoke his anti-immigrant base. It was not immediately clear whether Pentagon officials have taken hard-line immigration stances from the White House as a signal to ramp down support for its foreign-born recruitment program.
Stock said a recruiter told her there was pressure from the recruiting command to release foreign-born recruits, with one directive suggesting they had until Sept. 14 to cut them loose without counting against their recruiting targets, an accounting quirk known as “loss forgiveness.”
The recruiter told Stock that the Army Reserve is struggling to meet its numbers before the fiscal year closes Sept. 30 and that canceling on resource-intensive recruits is attractive to some recruiters, she said.
On Friday, the Pentagon denied ordering a mass cancellation of immigrant recruit contracts and said there were no incentives to do so. Officials said that recent directives to recruiters were meant to reiterate that immigrant recruits must be separated within two years of enlistment unless they “opt in” for an additional year.
But some recruits among half a dozen interviewed for this article said they were not approaching that two-year limit when their contracts were canceled, sowing confusion about the reason they were cut loose. The Pentagon declined to address whether messages to recruiters contained language that could have been misinterpreted.
Lola Mamadzhanova, who immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan in 2009, said she heard that Army recruiters in Evanston, Ill., texted immigrant recruits last week asking whether they still wanted to enlist, with an unusual condition: They had 10 minutes to respond. She never received the text message.
“The recruiters did some dirty trick just to get me out so I won’t be trouble anymore,” Mamadzhanova, 27, told The Post on Thursday. Her active-duty contract was canceled Sept. 7, according to a separation document obtained by The Post that said she “declined to enlist.” She later learned the recruiters used a wrong number to text her.
The senior recruiter at Mamadzhanova’s station contacted by The Post declined to comment and called Mamadzhanova seven minutes afterward to reverse previous guidance, saying her unlawful immigration status was the reason she was released. She enlisted in December 2015, which puts her three months outside the two-year limit.
Mamadzhanova was assured by other recruiters that her status would not be an issue and that she would ship for training soon after her immigration status slipped, around her enlistment date. Mamadzhanova, who is fluent in Russian, said the shifting and unclear rules have blindsided her.
“Joining the Army was a dream of mine since America has treated me so well,” she said. She applied for asylum in April, joining other recruits who have sought asylum or fled.
Some anti-immigration sentiment has swirled in the Pentagon for years, former staffers have said, with personnel and security officials from the Obama administration larding the immigrant recruiting process with additional security checks for visa holders already vetted by the Departments of State and Homeland Security.
“Immigrant recruits are already screened far more than any other recruits we have,” Naomi Verdugo, a former senior recruiting official for the Army at the Pentagon, told The Post.
“It seems like overkill, but there seems to be a sense that no matter what background check you do, it’s never enough,” she said. Verdugo, along with Stock, helped implement the recruitment program.
One Indian immigrant, a Harvard graduate and early recruit who is now a Special Forces soldier, was called back to undertake the updated security checks, she said.
“Even though you’re in the Army, even though you’re naturalized, these policies say ‘we’re not going to treat you like any other soldier,'” Verdugo said of the concerns over immigrants held by some at the Pentagon.
Internal Pentagon documents obtained by The Post have said the immigrant recruitment program, formally known as the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, was suspended last fall after the clearance process was paralyzed and officials voiced concern over foreign infiltrators, though it remains unclear whether any threats have ever materialized.
Experts say the relatively small number of recruits in the MAVNI program possess skills with outsize value, such as foreign languages highly sought by Special Operations Command. The program has rotated 10,400 troops into the military, mostly the Army, since its inception in 2009.
Although the military says it benefits from these recruits, they can generate a disproportionate amount of work for recruiters who must navigate regulations and shifting policies. The layered security checks can add months or years to the enlistment process, frustrating recruiters who must meet strictly enforced goals by quickly processing recruits.
In a summer memo, the Pentagon listed 2,400 foreign recruits with signed contracts who are drilling in reserve units but have not been naturalized and have not gone to basic training. About 1,600 others are waiting to clear background checks before active duty service, the Pentagon said.
The document acknowledges 1,000 of those troops waited so long that they are no longer in legal status and could be exposed to deportation. That number probably has climbed since the memo was drafted in May or June. Lawmakers have asked Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to intervene on behalf of those recruits.
Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) filed an amendment in the defense authorization bill Tuesday to retain MAVNI recruits until their lengthy background investigations are finished.
“These brave men & women enlisted & the Administration turns its back on them,” Harris tweeted Friday. “We must pass Sen. Durbin’s & my bill to protect these recruits.”
During July 19 testimony in a lawsuit filed by recruits who said the federal government unlawfully delayed their naturalizations, Justice Department attorney Colin Kisor assured a district court in Washington that recruits would see their contracts canceled only if “derogatory” information was found in extensive background investigations.
Mamadzhanova and others said their screenings, which take months to complete, have begun recently and could not have returned results.
Meanwhile, confusion reigned for recruits in multiple states.
At one office in Illinois, a senior recruiter restored a contract less than two hours after The Post inquired about a case. In Texas, a recruiter did the same 12 minutes after a call seeking to confirm whether a recruit’s contract was canceled.
An immigrant recruit who came to the United States in 2006 and enlisted in Virginia said her contract was canceled Tuesday after she had waited for two years, just as her legal immigration status expired. She asked to opt-in for another year, but her contract was dissolved days later, she said.
Recruiters had assured her, saying her contract was a shield from federal immigration authorities, she said. She spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
She now fears deportation to her native Indonesia, which strips native-born people of citizenship if they enlist in a foreign military or pledge loyalty to another country, as she has done.
“I feel devastated,” she said. “The Army was my only hope.”

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

"Drone Warrior" - A Stunning First Hand Memoir


Amazon.com

GQ.com

After a careful review by the Intelligence Community for Publication, Drone Warrior has performed a stunning service, giving the reader a gut level feel for the U.S. War on Terror from a decorated soldier's perspective. 

Those of us who served in Vietnam and similar conflicts since can totally relate to this masterpiece of  honesty.  

Brett Velicovich pulls no punches. The mental stress, teamwork, tragedy and after effects in this modern, technological killing process can be felt with every line.  The impact on the man himself and on those with whom he worked has not been spared in its detail and its effects. 

Having left the service, Brett is now involved in harnessing and controlling the technology for peaceful purposes like wildlife preservation and management.  Those of us who have made similar transitions applaud, commend and recommend the book and the man. 

Read it to become informed and consider the billions we are spending on this warfare today as well as the impact on our youth and our future. 

Drone Warrior










Friday, September 01, 2017

“Forever GI Bill” Is Now Law - Things You Should Know

Image: American Legion

"MILITARY TIMES"

"A new law that will bring significant changes to education benefits for service members, veterans and their families.

The legislation known as the “Forever GI Bill” garnered strong bipartisan support in Congress, passing unanimously in both the House and Senate.  Here are things you should know about the new GI Bill benefits.


1. There’s no longer an expiration date.

Previously, veterans had to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill within 15 years of their last 90-day period of active-duty service. That requirement is going away.
This portion of the law will apply to anyone who left the military after January 1, 2013. It will also apply to spouses who are receiving education benefits through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship for family members of service members who have been killed in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001.

2. Purple Heart recipients will get more benefits.

The new GI Bill allows anyone who has received a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to receive 100 percent of the benefits offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes coverage of tuition costs at a public school’s in-state rate for 36 months and stipends for textbooks and housing.

Previously, Purple Heart recipients were beholden to the same time-in-service qualifications for the GI Bill as other service members. This meant that Purple Heart recipients without a service-connected disability who did not reach 36 months of service were only eligible for a percentage of the benefits and not the full amount.
Aleks Morosky, national legislative director for Military Order of the Purple Heart, said there have been 52,598 Purple Heart recipients who were wounded in action during post-9/11 conflicts, though it’s unclear how many would immediately benefit from this provision. An estimated 660 Purple Heart recipients each year over the next 10 years will be able to take advantage of the increased benefits.

“We think that anybody who has shed blood for this country has met the service requirement by virtue of that fact,” Morosky said. “Everybody sacrifices, everybody puts themselves in harm’s way, but Purple Heart recipients are certainly among the service members who have sacrificed the most.”

This provision will go into effect in August 2018.

3. More people are eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary agreement between schools and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to split school costs not covered by the GI Bill, reducing or eliminating the amount students must pay themselves.
The Forever GI Bill will expand eligibility for this program to surviving spouses or children of service members in August 2018 and active-duty service members in August 2022.
Previously, only veterans eligible for GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent level or their dependents using transferred benefits were eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

4. There’s some extra money — and time — for STEM degrees.

Some college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields take longer than four years to complete, which is why the new law authorizes an additional school year of GI Bill funds on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Scholarships of up to $30,000 will be available for eligible GI Bill users starting in August 2018. Only veterans or surviving family members of deceased service members are eligible for this scholarship — not dependents using transferred benefits.

5. Vets hurt by school shutdowns will get benefits back.

A provision in the new GI Bill that will restore benefits to victims of school closures has been a long-time coming for the staff at Student Veterans of America.
“We’ve been getting calls for several years now, beginning with the collapse of Corinthian (Colleges), from student veterans whose lives were put on hold,” said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for the nonprofit, which has more than 500,000 student members. “Every day we wasted until it passed was another day that they had to wait.”
This provision will retroactively apply to GI Bill users whose schools have abruptly closed since January 2015, for credits earned at the shuttered institutions that did not transfer to new schools. This will include the thousands of veteran students who were attending the national for-profit chains Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute when they closed in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It would also provide a semester’s worth of reimbursement for GI Bill users affected by future school closures, as well as up to four months of a housing stipend.

6. The VA will measure eligibility for benefits differently.

Starting August 2018, this bill changes the way the VA uses time in service to calculate eligibility.
Previously, service members with at least 90 days but less than six months of active-duty service would be eligible for up to 40 percent of the full GI Bill benefits. Under new regulations, the same 90-days-to-six-month window is equal to 50 percent of benefits. Service members with at least six months and less than 18 months of service will be eligible for 60 percent of benefits.
This change will tend to benefit reservists more due to the nature of their service, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

7. Reservists can count more of their service toward eligibility.

Starting next August, members of the National Guard and Reserve will be able to count time spent receiving medical care or recovering from injuries received while on active duty toward their GI Bill eligibility. This will apply to all who have been activated since 9/11.
The Forever GI Bill also allows individuals who lost their Reserve Educational Assistance Program when the program ended in 2015 to credit their previous service toward their eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

8. Housing stipends will decrease slightly.

The government will pay for the expansions represented in the Forever GI Bill through a 1 percent decrease in housing stipends over the next five years. This will bring veterans’ housing stipends on par with what active-duty service members receive at the E-5 with dependents rate. (Veterans on the GI Bill currently receive a slightly higher housing allowance rate than active-duty E-5s with dependents.) This change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018 and will only apply to service members who enroll in GI Bill benefits after that date. No one currently receiving a housing stipend from the VA will see a reduction in benefits.
“On a month-to-month basis, they would never see less money,” said SVA’s Hubbard, explaining that the 1 percent reduction will come off of the total the VA would have spent over five years.
Starting in August 2018, housing stipends previously calculated based on the ZIP code of a student’s school will be based on where a student takes the most classes.
Also in August 2018, reservists will continue to receive their monthly housing allowance under the GI Bill on a prorated rate for any month during which they are activated, preventing them from losing a whole month’s worth of funds.

9. Benefits can get transferred after death.

A provision of the new GI Bill offers more flexibility with the transfer and distribution of benefits in case of death.
If a dependent who received transferred benefits dies before using all of the benefits, this provision gives the service member or veteran the ability to transfer remaining benefits to another dependent. This will go into effect August 2018 and apply to all deaths since 2009.
This provision also gives dependents of deceased service members the ability to make changes to their deceased loved one’s transferred benefits.
Ashlynne Haycock, senior coordinator of education support services for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, explains that currently, only a service member has the authority to make changes to the benefits they’d like to transfer. So, if a service member dies after transferring 35 months of benefits to one child and one month of benefits to another, for example, the family would not be able to make future changes to the GI Bill’s distribution among that service member’s dependents.

10. Surviving family members will get more money, but less time.

Besides access to Yellow Ribbon, spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty on or after 9/11 will also see their monthly education stipend from the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program increase by $200.
There’s a downside, however. Though the same program has previously provided 45 months of education benefits, that will decrease to 36 months in August 2018 to bring it in line with the provisions of the GI Bill.

11. School certifying officials must be trained.

Individuals who certify veteran student enrollment at schools with more than 20 veteran students will be required to undergo training. Previously, training was not mandatory.



Monday, August 07, 2017

Ken Larson on Hastings Veteran's Home


I have lived at the Hastings Veteran's Home for 11 years. This blog was formed by other veteran's at the home and myself in 2006 and has carried certain issues with regard to veteran's care and world events. As a matter of record, I wish to convey a letter I wrote to my sister. I will let it speak for itself 

Hi Sis,

I am only at the facility in the early morning for breakfast and in the evening for dinner and then sleep. The rest of the time I am gone on other matters. I live across the road from the main building these days in a smaller unit along the river. I get my medications twice a month and take that myself. My glasses, dental care and annual physicals, flu shots and the like are all part of the rent I pay from my pension. The clothing room and similar furnishings are available when I need them. What remains of my monthly check is adequate for me because my needs are very simple these days.

As I got well 11 years ago, I realized part of my recovery required getting as far away from bureaucratic settings and authority as possible. I found over the years in the war zone and in 35 years of corporations and dealing with Washington DC that my tolerance level for it was 0 at age 60.

When Clark Dyrud was Veteran's Commissioner he and I had lunch and exchanged emails over the years since he assisted me out of Washington, but by mutual agreement we never discussed work; only family and friends from high school and our experiences in Vietnam, since he and I went through some of the same trauma during the war. I have never been seen in public with Clark on facility grounds. Now that he is retired I am sure he is relieved. He was a good services officer for over 30 years.

I meet with staff here only twice a year for a care team review. They know what I do and respect me for it. I have received facility volunteer awards for my work in the community each of the years I have been here. All staff I have encountered have been professional at what they do, sincere in their motives and helpful. They have a difficult job. The population here is of vastly varying backgrounds and ages. Many are 20 years younger than I and have a lot of life ahead of them but fell on hard times, addiction, depression and other maladies veterans are particularly vulnerable to.

I have supported both Tony Rose and Louie Klemek with advice, government insights into agencies, correspondence and getting legal help. I got Tony's paperwork released from Homeland Security under the Freedom of Information Act because I know how to do it having worked government agencies in my career. I wrote a letter that resulted in Louie getting some wood working privileges back that had been taken away and a visit from a State Representative. I have done all this behind the scenes and on a personal basis with these men. I also arranged for Tony's Washington D.C. pro-bono legal help, and set up a blog for him and his cause:

http://rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com/2008/11/navy-veteran-has-waited-2-years-for.html

I helped both men because I felt the system, from the federal level to the state level, was letting them down. They have appreciated my assistance and have told me so.

This facility to me is a room with a beautiful view of the Vermilion River, a great little small town I enjoy, fishing, photography, writing, and intellectually stimulating non-profit volunteer work in an office supplied by the county at no cost so I can help small business.

I have served over 7000 clients through the non-profit organizations SCORE and Micro Mentor and many local businesses and small enterprises in every state in the union and its territories, receiving the SCORE National Achievement Award shown in the right margin of this site in 2010 for mentoring over 500 clients in the SCORE on-line counseling program. I have American clients in several foreign countries. Roughly 30 % of my client base is veterans. My government contracting web site has received over 700,000 visits.

http://www.smalltofeds.com 

In short, the Minnesota Veteran's Home is an ingredient in Ken, reinvented in retirement and I am enjoying it very much.


Love,


Ken








Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Your Questions Answered About the New Veterans Online Shopping Benefit

                                                                              Image: snagfilms-a.akamaihd.net


“MILITARY TIMES”
“More than 95,000 people visited the military exchanges’ VetVerify.org website in its first month, seeking to register for the new veterans online shopping benefit that starts Nov. 11, officials said.
All honorably discharged veterans will have access to the online exchanges as of that date. VetVerify is the first step in the eligibility process.
Some veterans will be chosen as “beta testers” and will have access to the online stores before Nov. 11; the earlier veterans complete the verification process, the better their chances of becoming beta testers, according to officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which administers the verification for all the military exchange services.
Veterans who register through VetVerify.org will receive notification of their acceptance as eligible online shoppers or, if their records are incomplete, will receive guidance on the steps they can take to update those records.

Officials were not able to provide information about how many of the 95,000 verification attempts have been successful. About 13 percent of the site’s visitors have been chosen as beta testers, AAFES spokesman Chris Ward said, and others who registered for verification already were eligible to shop.
Officials started the verification process early in preparation for at least 13 million people who will be newly eligible to shop online at the exchange. Until now, online military exchange shopping was available only to active-duty, reserve and National Guard members; retirees; 100 percent disabled veterans; the dependent family members of those individuals; and certain others.
Online pricing can be seen only by those who are authorized to shop at the exchange websites: www.shopmyexchange.comwww.shopcgx.com;www.mymcx.com; andwww.mynavyexchange.com.
Military Times and the exchanges continue to get questions about the VetVerify website and the new shopping benefit. Here are a few frequently asked questions, and some answers, supplied by AAFES.
Q. Is this site a phishingscam?
A. No. VetVerify.org is a shared service for all the military exchanges with the sole purpose of supporting the newly approved veterans online shopping benefit. VetVerify.org uses data from Defense Manpower Data Center, which holds the most comprehensive dataset on veterans, to verify eligibility.
Q. Do I qualify if I served for four years, or if I was in the reserves, or if I’m on disability?
A. All honorably discharged veterans and those with a general (under honorable) discharge can shop their military exchanges, through the veterans online shopping benefit, beginning on Veterans Day.
Q. Can my spouse (or other family member) shop? 
A. No. The new benefit is specific to veterans with honorable and general (under honorable conditions) discharges.
Q. Does the veterans online shopping benefit extend to shopping at the commissary? 
A. No.
Q. What if my service can’t be verified? 
A. There may be further information needed, so you will need to submit a digital copy of your discharge paperwork to be reviewed for eligibility. After you submit your verification form through VetVerify.org, you will be prompted to upload the necessary paperwork.
Q. Who should I call if I have problems with the verification process? 
A. The VetVerify.org customer call center, toll-free, at 844-868-8672.
Q. Why does VetVerify ask for my entire Social Security number? 
A. VetVerify is required to obtain the last four digits of your Social Security number, date of birth and last name in order to validate and authenticate shoppers. If a match is not found with the minimum information, then the Social Security number is requested for a more detailed search. Social Security number is the unique identifier by Defense Manpower Data Center data. When customers visit the website of their favorite online exchanges for the first time, however, they will create a new username to be used as the unique identifier with the exchange. VetVerify has taken appropriate measures to safeguard your personal information. “

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Industry/Pentagon Revolving Door Featured in Deputy Secretary of Defense Confirmation





“BREAKING DEFENSE”

“Mr. Shanahan, you’re not making me happy,” the chairman said. “You just ducked basically every question Sen. Fischer asked you.”

After Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer tried to elicit the nominee’s position on how to respond to Russian violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, McCain stepped in.
McCain’s biggest objection to Shanahan, however, was the nominee’s 31 years at America’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing. (Only Lockheed Martin sells more to the Pentagon. And Sen. McCain, thanks to the long-running scandal over Boeing’s former tanker deal, is believed to harbor a deep suspicion of Boeing’s conduct).

“Not a good beginning. Not a good beginning,” Senate Armed Services chairman John McCain told the administration’s nominee for deputy secretary of defense this morning. “Do not do that again, Mr. Shanahan, or I will not take your name up for a vote before this committee. Am I perfectly clear?”

“Very clear,” said Patrick Shanahan, enduring a rocky confirmation hearing for the No. 2 position in the Pentagon, which remains unusually short on senior officials. Other senators at the hearing asked Shanahan about Pentagon procurement, especially about nurturing innovation, continuing the Third Off Strategy for high-tech weapons, and starting the Pentagon’s long-awaited audit this fall. But McCain repeatedly took the mike to berate the Trump nominee for non-answers on Russia and for potential conflicts of interest after his 31 years at Boeing.

In that initial exchange, Shanahan’s specific offense was giving a vague non-answer in his written testimony to the committee’s question on whether he supported providing “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine. In the hearing, ironically, when McCain asked Shanahan to clarify, he stated his support for arming the Ukrainians so swiftly and unequivocally that the irascible but aging senator seemed momentarily thrown before returning to the attack.
“I want to move forward as quickly as I can with your nomination,” McCain told Shanahan at the hearing’s end, “(but) I am concerned. 90 percent of defense spending is in the hands of five corporations, of which you represent one. I have to have confidence that the fox is not going to be put back into the henhouse.”

“Mr. Shanahan, I think you’re a fine man; you have an outstanding record; (but) take a look at your responses that you sent to this committee,” McCain said. “Some of them were less than specific, at least one of them (was) almost insulting.”

Citing US casualties in Afghanistan, Ukrainian casualties against Russian-backed separatists, and the US shoot-down of a Syrian jet, McCain made it clear he wants clear answers on administration policy — and if the committee doesn’t get them, it will find answers of its own as it works on the annual defense policy bill.

“I want some answers, I want some straightforward answers, (and) if they don’t give us a strategy from the people that I admire most, we’re going to put a strategy in,” McCain warned. “I want to work with this administration, I want to work with this president, I want to work with the new secretary of defense, — who I happen to be one of the most ardent admirers of — but I have to tell you, in a couple of weeks, we’re going to mark-up up the defense authorization bill….The president has two choices: Either give us a strategy or we will put a strategy that we develop into the defense authorization bill.”

“Somehow over the last several years, this committee seems to have been treated as sort of a rubber stamp,” McCain concluded. “That’s not what the Constitution of the United States says. The Constitution of the United States says that the Senate would provide advice and consent.”




VA Will Shift Medical Records To DOD’s “In-Process” Electronic Medical Records System

Image:  Military Times

Total Investment To Date Now Projected at Nearly $10 Billion

“MILITARY TIMES”
VA has already spent more than $1 billion in recent years in attempts to make its legacy health record systems work better with military systems.
The military’s health record system is still being put in place across that department, more than three years after the acquisition process began. The initial contract topped $4.6 billion, but has risen in cost in recent years.
Shulkin did not announce a potential price tag for the move to a commercial electronic health records system, but said that a price tag of less than $4 billion would likely be “unrealistic.”

“Veterans Affairs administrators on Monday announced plans to shift veterans’ electronic medical records to the same system used by the Defense Department, potentially ending a decades-old problematic rift in sharing information between the two bureaucracies.
VA Secretary David Shulkin announced the decision Monday as a game-changing move, one that will pull his department into the commercial medical record sector and — he hopes — create an easier to navigate system for troops leaving the ranks.
“VA and DoD have worked together for many years to advance (electronic health records) interoperability between their many separate applications, at the cost of several hundred millions of dollars, in an attempt to create a consistent and accurate view of individual medical record information,” Shulkin said.
“While we have established interoperability between VA and DOD for key aspects of the health record … the bottom line is we still don’t have the ability to trade information seamlessly for our veteran patients. Without (improvements), VA and DoD will continue to face significant challenges if the departments remain on two different systems.”
White House officials — including President Donald Trump himself — hailed the announcement as a major step forward in making government services easier for troops and veterans.
Developing implementation plans and potential costs is expected to take three to six months.
But he did say VA leaders will skip standard contract competition processes to more quickly move ahead with Millennium software owned by Missouri-based Cerner Corp., the basis of the Pentagon’s MHS GENESIS records system.
“For the reasons of the health and protection of our veterans, I have decided that we can’t wait years, as DOD did in its EHR acquisition process, to get our next generation EHR in place,” Shulkin said.
Shulkin for months has promised to “get VA out of the software business,” indicating that the department would shift to a customized commercial-sector option for updating the health records.
The VA announcement came within minutes of Trump’s controversial proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. The president has repeatedly pledged to make government systems work more like a business, and in some cases hand over public responsibilities to the private sector.
Shulkin has worked to assure veterans groups that his efforts to rely on the private sector for expertise and some services will not mean a broader dismantling of VA, but instead will produce a more efficient and responsive agency.
He promised a system that will not only be interoperable with DOD records but also easily transferable to private-sector hospitals and physicians, as VA officials work to expand outside partnerships.
Shulkin is expected to testify before Congress on the fiscal 2018 budget request in coming weeks. As they have in past hearings, lawmakers are expected to request more information on the EHR changes then. ”