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Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day 2019 - A Combat Vet Talks "Cause and Effect"

A young woman lays down on the grave of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Noah Pier on Memorial Day at Arlington National Ceme
A young woman lays down on the grave of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Noah Pier on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 31, 2010, in Arlington, Virginia.  (Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)

As we honor our fallen this Memorial Day, an observer of our military actions over the last two decades in the Middle East could in no way have predicted the splintered, irrational, “Turn-Your-Back-And-You-Have-Two-New-Enemies”, scenario the US faces today. Perhaps a look back over our shoulder, examining cause and effect relationships along the road is in order.

CAUSE:  The US fights a just and honorable war assisting many Middle East allies and other countries free Kuwait.

EFFECT:  Saddam Hussein is driven from Kuwait and the country is returned to its rightful government.

CAUSE:  The US does not leave the Middle East after rescuing Kuwait, but rather, stays in peripheral countries militarily “To Protect Our Interests” with an imperialist attitude resented by cultures that have an ingrained,religious hatred for that type of presence by foreigners.

EFFECT:  The rise of Bin Laden and many more like him today and the deaths of 3,000 Americans on our soil, attacked in our homeland because we did not leave the Middle East. 

CAUSE:  The US reacts to 911 by setting up an elaborate Homeland Security apparatus and beefing up the National Security Agency by orders of magnitude, technologically, while putting in place a carefully concealed legal apparatus to counter terrorism.

EFFECT: The US has no outside terrorist incidents of a 911 magnitude since the Twin Towers fell in 2001 but Americans develop real concerns about our government and its role in controlling our lives as whistle blower disclosures regarding the apparatus of intelligence operation reveal potential constitutional issues.

CAUSE:  The US invades Iraq fed by false, intentionally staged intelligence, fronted by agencies and industries bent on economic gain. The US sets about war fighting and nation building programs that seek to displace a culture that had evolved through conflict and war lords for hundreds of years and is tied to the absolute requirement that religious practices be part and parcel of government, a principle the US has rejected as unworkable since our Constitution was written

EFFECT:  Failure to build anything substantial in the form of a nation over a 17 year period.  The deaths or crippling of our finest soldiers, dramatic increases in our national debt and a cynicism among our citizens with respect to the $Billions that have gone into the pockets of corporations supporting our huge Military Industrial Complex (MIC) and wasteful USAID Programs by companies that spend more lobbying Congress than they pay in taxes.

CAUSE:  The present Middle East unrest due to ISIS/ISIL and other splinter groups we thought had been scattered to the winds. 

EFFECT:  UN security council meets with many nations talking and less than a half dozen nations carefully and selectively participating in an air war against terrorism while the remainder watch the outcome.   Our military and corporate defense establishment (MIC) shout, “Sequestration to reduce military spending must end!” and estimates more years will be required with more American boots on the ground to train forces that we had already trained for a decade and provide "Stability"). 

CAUSE (PROJECTED):  A political battle like none seen in recent times during the coming US national  elections, driven by concerned American citizens and their view of the US role in the Middle East. As our burgeoning National Debt Clock approaches $23 Trillion the culture in that part of the world has had a very difficult time figuring out how we can help while we near energy independence from oil and require some nation building of our own in the homeland. 

EFFECT (PROJECTED): A leader and a political climate that will permit prudence, tough decisions, carefully avoidance of bad intelligence and overreaction so that we do not continue to sink into the oil and blood soaked desert of Middle East cultural revolutions. 

Global corporations will then cease consuming the MIC and USAID tax payer dollars to prosper, while parking their assets overseas as our young become indebted for generations.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Veteran Connects the Dots In the Military and Veterans Health Care Systems Maze

The Massive backlog recently highlighted in the press and in Congress  reveals a dire necessity for simplification, communication and  efficiency in processes, systems and government service contracting in DOD and the Veterans Administration as well as better management of federal government contractors. 

The news media, the auditors and the average American are pointing the finger at the President and the Head of the VA.  One cannot ignore the accountability aspects of these individuals.  

However, the real root causes lie in the massive volume of war veterans returning from our pointless incursions in the Middle East over the last decade, coupled with the historically poor process and systems work conducted between the Department of Defense and the VA and poorly managed contractors taking home millions on systems specifications that change like the wind blows.  

It is not unlike the Obama Care fiasco.

After returning from two combat tours in Vietnam, I worked in the government contracting environment for 36 years then went through the VA system as a Veteran getting treatment at retirement in 2006

In 2006 I found the VA had a magnificent system capable of handling medical records and treatment anywhere in the world once a veteran was in the system; a key point.  Please contrast the below Time Magazine Story with current events and ask yourself : Why have we had such deterioration?,9171,1376238,00.html

ANSWER:   We have not experienced deterioration - within the VA itself, except  from pressures due to millions returning from war and from human beings who look for excuses when systems fail.

We have had over 17 years of Middle East incursions, a sudden discharge of veterans and poor management from the DOD to the VA, from the systems contractors to the state veterans homes.  

Veterans fall through the cracks as a result.

 This is an F-35 aircraft, cost plus scenario, revisited in the form of veterans care systems mismanagement and it will cost billions to fix.  THAT IS THE COST OF WAR.

Unlike the F-35 we must have veterans health care or our volunteer army will disappear.



A recent 3 part special in Time Magazine addresses the serious gaps between treatment,  benefits and services processes and systems between the military  services and the Veterans Administration:
"While awaiting  processing, "the veteran’s claim sits stagnant for up to 175 days as VA  awaits transfer of complete (service treatment records) from DoD,":

After years of work to move toward integrated electronic records that would eliminate this sort of delay, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently  conceded that the Defense Department is not holding up its end of the bargain to improve the disability process.

"I didn’t think, we knew what the hell we were doing.": 


The above scenario is not unlike the Walter Reed Army Hospital care  fiasco a few years ago, before the facility was shut down and consolidated with the Bethesda Naval facility.


The VA decided to have those who would  actually use the system (claims processors) work with software  developers. This process took longer but will create a system more  likely to meet the needs of those who actually use it. VA also worked  closely with major Congressional-chartered veterans’ service  organizations.

2013 was the year in which regional offices were to be being transitioned to the new electronic system.  It obviously has not occurred as planned.


Both DOD and the Veterans  Administration use service contractors to perform this type of systems development.  Government Computer News (GCN)  carried a story on the  difficulties experienced with, "Performance-Based Contracting", which  has been made part of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) in an  attempt to pre-establish at contract award those discrete outcomes that determine if and when a contractor will be paid. 

Interestingly enough, the article splits the blame for the difficulties  right down the middle, stating the government typically has problems  defining what it wants as an end product or outcome and looks to  contractors to define it for them. More than willing to do so, the contractors detail specific end products or outcomes, set schedule  milestones and submit competitive proposals.

The winner is selected based on what the government thinks it needs at  the time to fulfill its requirement and a contract is negotiated. Once underway, the government decides it wants something else (usually a  management-by-government committee phenomena with a contractor growing  his product or service by offering lots of options). The resulting  change of contract scope invalidates the original price and schedule, so  a whole new round of proposals and negotiations must occur with the  winner while the losers watch something totally different evolve than  that for which they competed. The clock keeps ticking and the winner  keeps getting his monthly bill paid based on incurred cost or progress  payments.


The present state of the economy and the needs of our servicemen will not allow the aforementioned to  continue. Government agencies are now hard pressed to insure the most  "Bang for the Buck". It is in the long term interests of the politician, the DOD, the VA and astute contractors to assist in that endeavor. 

(1)The only way to achieve such an objective is through sound technical, cost and schedule contract definition via an iterative process of baseline management and control.

(2)  Government civil servants must be trained to report systemic poor service up the line in lieu of hiding bad news from superiors or developing workarounds.  This must be an expectation built into their job description and they must be rewarded and promoted for meeting that requirement just as they are for the other requirements of their jobs. 

The first whistle to be blown must be to the boss when the service issue occurs, not to the press a year from the occurrence. 

Our returning soldiers and those who have served before deserve better"

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Vietnam’s Struggle to Overcome the Legacy of US Bombs

Duong Ba Tien with the unexploded bomb he found while tending his family's water buffalo in Quang Tri province, central Vietnam. Photograph: Simon Cordall
“In an eight-year aerial campaign between 1965-1973, US warplanes dropped around 800,000 tonnes of munitions, striking at least 55 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces and cities in an attempt to turn the tide of the war between the US-backed south and the communist-controlled North.
A significant proportion of bombs failed to detonate on impact, and remain buried just beneath the surface in the countryside."
“The recent Hanoi summit attended by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un thrust Vietnam into the global spotlight; a rare moment of publicity in the modern era for a country which dominated the world’s attention through the unfolding horrors of war in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yet the hosts were left disappointed when the summit collapsed, after failed talks on de-nuclearization prompted the US delegation to depart early for Washington. Five decades earlier the US had been in no rush to leave despite a similar sense of impending mission failure, instead sending thousands more troops and sticking around to bomb Vietnam for eight years from 1965-1973. While the summit leaves no lasting impression, the legacy of unexploded bombs and toxic contamination from the war remains.
Just days after dialogue faltered in Hanoi, a huge 350kg US-made war-era bomb was unearthed 400km further south in the central province of Quang Binh, as a family dug foundations for their new house. The live air-dropped bomb, discovered close to the busy national highway 1A, was one of the largest found in recent years. The area was evacuated and the bomb later safely defused by demining experts. While deaths or injuries were avoided, the find is a stark reminder of the lingering risk from US bombs.
The effects of Agent Orange also persist in central areas of Vietnam, where soil and waterways remain contaminated after toxic defoliants were sprayed by the US to deny forest cover to Viet Cong troops.
With Vietnam back out of the media glare after the Hanoi summit, and with global attention fixed on new conflict hot-spots in the Middle East, there is concern over the future will of foreign governments and international donors to clear unexploded ordnance from former battle zones in Indochina. Given Trump’s isolationist ‘America First’ foreign policy and desire to cut funding overseas, there are also doubts over whether the US commitment to help Vietnam heal from the war is set for the long-term.
The lasting impact of US bombing raids on Vietnam
Since hostilities ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975, accidents involving unexploded ordnance (UXO) have claimed more than 105,000 victims across the country, killing at least 38,900 and leaving 66,000 injured. Meanwhile 7% of Vietnamese citizens, or 6.2 million people, have a disability, while 13% live in households with at least one disabled occupant. UXO explosions are a major contributory factor to Vietnam’s high disability rate, in many cases leaving victims with crippling conditions such as lost limbs and blindness. Agent Orange has also been blamed for an unusually high rate of severe birth defects.
Farmers and scrap metal collectors most often fall victim to UXO blasts after coming into contact with ordnance in rural areas. Children are also disproportionately affected, with thousands having suffered injuries after mistaking spherical-shaped cluster bomblets for toys. Since the mid-1990s, a number of organizations have run risk education classes to help educate local communities of the hidden danger.
Added to the immediate physical effects on those caught up in accidents, UXO contamination has had a wider socio-economic impact. Tens of thousands of victims require long-term physical rehabilitation and psychological support, placing a strain on Vietnam’s healthcare system. In microeconomic terms, UXO can have a devastating effect, removing the earning capacity of the main breadwinner in families and placing a double burden on relatives in the form of providing care and making-up for lost income. The prevailing threat of UXO also restricts agriculture and development in rural areas near the former demilitarized zone in central Vietnam, where fighting was most intense. Quang Tri province, along the old dividing line, is worst-hit: up to 84% of land here is contaminated, compared to 15% nationwide.
Local and international demining efforts since the 1990s
For more than 20 years since the mid-1990s, a collection of experienced international NGOs has been working to rid Vietnam of UXO alongside local state-run agencies and the Vietnamese armed forces. In recent years, Danish Demining Group (DDG), Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) have been among those operating in central areas to clear land and provide risk education.
The Vietnamese government has also been working to improve national-level infrastructure in recent years to better co-ordinate and oversee the demining effort. In 2013, a military-run Vietnam National Mine Action Centre (VNMAC) was established, while last year Hanoi formed Steering Committee 701 on the Settlement of Post-War Unexploded Ordnance and Toxic Chemical Consequences, to propose new solutions and mobilize civil society actors both at home and abroad to confront war legacy issues.
The government is hoping to make greater inroads into combatting the harmful legacy of UXO in the coming years, and aims to clear 800,000 hectares of bomb-contaminated land by 2025. However, this only represents a small percentage of the affected area, which totals at least 6.1 million hectares. The true figure may turn out to be even higher once a full survey has been completed. It is estimated that the removal of all UXO items in Vietnam will take up to a century and cost an eye-watering US$10bn.
Speaking at a global mine awareness conference last year, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said UXO was still holding the country back four decades after the guns fell silent. ‘‘Although the war has been over, the severe consequences of landmines, UXO and toxic chemicals still exist, affecting human health and living environments. Many people have lost their lives or suffered the loss of a part of their body, or lost their loved ones’’. Phuc added the presence of UXO still limits socio-economic progress.
Concerns over future US and global demining support
In the past year, new funding has been announced from the UK, Norway, and South Korea to continue demining activities in the worst-affected provinces. In mid-2018, South Korea committed US$20m for survey and clearance in Binh Dinh and Quang Binh, while a deal was signed with the NPA to fund work in Quang Tri until 2022. Late last year, funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) was announced to support the work of MAG in Quang Tri. Yet the US remains the main source of external funding, providing over 90% of total foreign assistance for UXO projects in Vietnam in 2017.
Between 1993-2017, the US has invested at least US$119.3m for UXO-related programmes in Vietnam. For two decades, the network of in-country demining operators has relied primarily on US finance to expand their vital work. There are now concerns that under the more isolationist and inward-looking administration of President Trump – intent on cost-cutting on projects abroad which are not deemed in the national interest – sustained US help for the UXO clean-up in Vietnam appears more uncertain. And with the Vietnam War fading into distant memory, other foreign funding sources are also fragile.
Will war legacy issues remain central in US-Vietnam ties?
Does the US have a moral obligation to help Vietnam recover from a conflict which is now condemned widely in the West and increasingly viewed as an aggressive act of Cold War-era misadventure? Former president Obama appeared to hold that view, stating his belief on a 2016 visit to Laos that the US had a duty to help Vietnam’s neighbour ‘heal’ from the pain caused by past US actions in the region. It is unclear whether the President Trump, and future US presidents, will share such sentiment. There are positive signs: the US recently completed an operation to remove Agent Orange toxins from land near Da Nang airport, and is due to start decontaminating a larger site at Bien Hoa air base later this year.
In the four decades since the war ended, geopolitical realities have shifted and the rapid rise of China has pushed Vietnam and the US closer together faster than anticipated. Since restoring diplomatic ties in 1995, relations between the two former enemies have blossomed, most ironically in the field of defence. The Hanoi-Washington security relationship has been evidenced since Trump came to power by a rising frequency of high-level visits. Trump has visited twice, while State Secretary Mike Pompeo and former Defence Secretary James Mattis have also made trips to take part in high-level exchanges.
The US has focused mainly on improving Vietnam’s maritime security capabilities in the context of the South China Sea disputes. Vietnam is a major claimant state and is opposed to China’s expansive claim. Last year, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson aircraft carrier docked at Da Nang port for four days, marking the first visit by a US carrier since the war. The US has also transferred a refurbished US Coast Guard cutter to the Vietnamese navy, funded the acquisition of 24 45-ft patrol boats – 12 of which have already been delivered – and granted Vietnam US$26.25m to boost its maritime security capacity during 2017-2018. Once an enemy, Vietnam is now one of the US’ most dependable security partners in Southeast Asia.
In this context, a long-term US commitment to fund UXO clearance in the coming decades would not only be in the interests of Vietnam’s prosperity and continued economic development, cementing its recovery from the war. It would also be in the US’ national interest, helping to cement its growing ties with Hanoi as it aims to refocus on the Indo-Pacific, while signalling its recognition of the harm caused in Vietnam. Only when the last bomb is cleared, can the shared horrors of the war be fully lain to rest.”