Pg Article Subject

Download 0.52 Mb.
Size0.52 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9


1 April 2014
HTML Edition

Pg Article Subject

| *DoD* |

04 == DFAS Future ------------ (Drawdown Impact | Army Pilot Program)

04 == DoD Benefit Cuts [36] --------------- (TRICARE Program Hearing)

06 == DECA Budget Cuts [06] ----------------- (Really | And Now A Plan)

07 == BRAC [36] ------------------------ (Pentagon Wants Another Round)

08 == BRAC [37] ---------------------------- (CNO Says He Sees No Need)

09 == DoD Religious Expression [03] ---- (Sikh Alleged Enlistment Ban)

10 == DoD Retirement [01] ----- (Negative Reaction to Change Proposal)

12 == QDR 2014 [01] ----- (Presumes More Risk, Less Money in Future)

14 == QDR 2014 [02] ---- (Pentagon Official Disputes HASC Rejection)

| *VA* |

15 == VA Care ~ Cold Injuries ----------------- (How To Obtain Benefits)

16 == VA Health Care Access [07] ------ (ACA/VA Signup Encouraged)

17 == VA Stonewalling -------- (Unanswered Media & HVAC Inquiries)

18 == VA Stonewalling [01] --------------- (HVAC VA Honesty Project)

20 == VA Care Impact on Medicare Coverage ---------------------- (None)

20 == VA Annual Income Reporting ---------- (Requirement Eliminated)

21 == VA Advance Funding [05] -- (Shinseki | Will not Solve Problems)

22 == VA Birth ---------------------------------------- (Public Law 100-527)

23 == VA SAH [08] ------------------- (ALS Vets Now Presumed Eligible)

24 == Vet Toxic Exposure~Mosul [01] -- (Constrictive Bronchiolitis SC)

24 == Burn Pit Toxic Exposure [28] ------- (Registry Deadline Exceeded)

25 == VA Lawsuit ~ Legionella -------------------------- (Edward Stockley)

25 == VA Lawsuit ~ Frank Canfield --------------- ($2M Wrongful Death)

26 == VA Caregiver Program [23] ---------------- (CHAMPVA Eligibility)

26 == VA Claims Backlog [130] ---- (AL 2014 CBWG Report Released)

27 == VA Claims Backlog [131] ---------------- (Death Impact on Claims)

28 == VA Claims Backlog [132] --------- (Failing VA Officials Gotta Go)

29 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse -------- (Reported 15 thru 31 Mar 2014)

30 == VA Loans ----------------------------------------------- (ATR/QM Rule)

30 == Gulf War Syndrome [27] ---- (VA Presumptive Conditions Sought)

31 == Traumatic Brain Injury [33] ------------------ (Pseudobulbar Affect)

31 == GI Bill [170] ------------------------ (SVA Degree Attainment Study)

| *Vets* |

33 == Vietnam Veterans Day ------------------------------------ (March 29th)

33 == Vet Cemetery Belgium - (Obama Pays Homage at Flanders Fields)

35 == Minnesota Veteran Homes [03] ------ (Admittance Priority Debate)

36 == Vet Charity Watch [44] ----- (TX Sues Vets Support Organization)

37 == Disabled Vet SSA Claims ----- (Priority Treatment if Rated 100%)

38 == POW/MIA [24] -------------------- (How You Can Help Find MIAs)

39 == POW/MIA Recoveries------------------------- (140301 thru 140315)

41 == OBIT | Denton~Jeremiah ------------------------------ (28 Mar 2014)

43 == Vet Jobs [146] ---------------- (Benefits of Working for Uncle Sam)

44 == Vet Job Opportunities -------- (EGS Military Recruiting Programs)

45 == Retiree Appreciation Days ------------------ (Mar 24 thru Dec 2014)

49 == Vet Hiring Fairs ---------------------------- (1 Apr thru 31 May 2014)

50 == WWII Vets 59 ----------------------------------- (Mayer~Frederick A)

51 == Military History Anniversaries ----------------------------- (1-30 Apr)

51 == State Veteran's Benefits & Discounts --------------- (Virginia 2014)

| *Vet Legislation* ||

52 == DoD Suicide Policy [03] -------- (SAV Act Introduced in Senate)

53 == Medicare Reimbursement Rates 2014 [07] -- (Bill Clears House)

53 == TSGLI [06] ----------------------- (Proposed $100K Cap Removal)

54 == DECA Budget Cuts [07] ---------- (Commissary Sustainment Act)

54 == Oklahoma Vet Legislation ----- (SB 1604 Blast Injury Treatment)

55 == Florida Vet Legislation [05] -------------------- (Vet Omnibus Bill)

56 == Kansas Vet Legislation ---------------- (Abolish KCVA H.B.2681)

56 == Vet Jobs [145] ------------------------------------- (S.2138 & S.2143)

57 == Vet Legislation Offered in 113th Congress - (As of 29 Mar 2014)

58 == Veteran Hearing/Mark-up Schedule --------- (As of 31 Mar 2014)

| *Military* |

60 == USS Miami (SSN-775) [01] --------------(Deactivation Ceremony)

61 == Military Grooming Standards --------------------------- (Tightening)

61 == Pearl Harbor Remains ---------- (Relatives Want Them Identified)

63 == D-Day [04] ----------------------------- (Reserved Seating Requests)

63 == DoD Mobilized Reserve 25 MAR 2014 ------ (Decrease of 1,731)

63 == Military Funeral Disorderly Conduct [23] ---- (Fred Phelps Dead)

64 == Medal of Honor Citations --------------- (Marm, Walter J Vietnam)

| *Military History* |

67 == Aviation Art ------------------------------------------ (Strike On Berlin)

67 == USS Arizona Memorial Stamp ---- ( Priority Mail Express $19.99)

68 == Selfridge Military Air Museum ---------------------------- (Overview)

70 == Military History -------------------------- (Remarkable Women Vets)

71 == WWII PreWar Events ---------- (Taking Shelter Madrid Dec 1936)

71 == Vietnam Veterans Memorial [13] ---------------- (2014 Ceremonies)

73 == Military History Anniversaries ----------------------------- (1-30 Apr)

73 == Spanish American War Image 36 ---------------------- (Dinner 1898)

74 == Faces of WAR (WWII) ------- (Washington DC Parade May 1942)

| *Health Care* |

75 == TRICARE Region West [08] ------------------------ (DocGPS App)

75 == TRICARE Service Centers [01] ----------- (Going Virtual 1 April)

76 == Traumatic Brain Injury [34] ---------------- (Blast Gauge Potential)

77 == TRICARE Prime [28] ------------------ (Consolidated Tricare Plan)

78 == Headaches ---------------------------- (Treatment Depends on Type)

79 == TFL Pharmacy Benefit [04] ------- (Retail Pharmacy Use Ending)

81 == PTSD [163] -------------------- (MDMA Clinical Trials Underway)

83 == Earwax Removal [01] ------------------------------------ ( Overview)
| *Finances* |

84 == SSA Monetary Benefit [01] --------- (10 Suggestions to Maximize)

86 == Movie Theater Discounts ------------------------------------- (Seniors)

88 == Saving Money -------------------------------- (Buy vs. Rent Decision)

89 == Malaysia Airlines MH370 Scam --------------------- (How It works)

90 == Scams ~ IRS [04] - -------------------------- (Bogus IRS agent Calls)

90 == Cat Fishing Scam -------------------------------------- (How It works)

91 == Tax Burden for Indiana Retirees ------------------ (As of Mar 2014)

92 == Thrift Savings Plan 2014 ------ (Share Prices + YTD Gain or Loss)
| *General Interest* |

93 == Notes of Interest ------------------------------- (15 thru 31 Mar 2014)

94 == Honor and Remember Flag ------------------------ (Approval Status)

95 == Senior's Quiz --------------- (Keep Your Aging Grey Cells Active)

96 == Photos That Say it All ------------------------------------ (What Next)

96 == Citizen Honors Award ----------------------------- (2014 Recipients)

98 == They Grew Up to Be ------------------ (John Lennon of the Beatles)

98 == Have You Heard? --------------------------------------- (A Little Test)

99 == Interesting Inventions ------------------------------ (What Handicap?)

| *Attachments* |

Attachment - Veteran Legislation as of 29 Mar 2014

Attachment - Virginia Vet State Benefits & Discounts Mar 2014

Attachment - Revolutionizing TBI Diagnosis

Attachment - Military History Anniversaries 1-30 Apr


DFAS Future ► Drawdown Impact | Army Pilot Program
The Army is considering pulling some of its financial activities out of the Pentagon’s Defense Finance and Accounting Services office and handing them off to the Army’s own accountants. It’s not clear how, if at all, this would affect soldiers. But it’s raising questions about the future of DFAS, which is the world’s largest finance and accounting operation and manages the bank accounts for most of the Defense Department’s massive budget. The Army is planning to launch a pilot program this spring at Fort Bragg, N.C., that will involve significant changes to how the Army conducts accounting for its soldiers on that base, according to a defense official familiar with the plan. Army Secretary John McHugh suggested that massive changes may be in store for DFAS as the Pentagon’s budget levels off, the size of the force shrinks and military accountants have fewer financial transactions to manage. “I think everybody has to be realistic ... as the number of customers gets smaller, you’re gonna have fewer transactions if no one does anything else. It’s just realistic. So I mean, the face of DFAS ... would have to make some adjustments to accommodate the drawdown in the budget as well,” McHugh told the House Armed Services Committee on 25 MAR.
McHugh has no direct control over DFAS, which is run by the Defense Department’s comptroller. An Army spokesman declined to provide details about the pilot program. Questions about accounting services come as pressure is mounting on the military to keep better track of its money. The Pentagon’s accounting procedures do not meet the same standards upheld by private-sector corporations and most government agencies. Critics say billions of dollars are lost in waste and inefficiency. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill say fixing that would help ease the impact of budget cuts. A Pentagon spokesman said no major changes to DFAS are in the works. “DFAS has no plans for major workload shifts or closures at any other DFAS site. We are aware the Army has been reviewing how their financial management work is performed but we have made no agreements to transfer any work,” said Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban. McHugh said the Army’s underlying goal is to address longstanding concerns about auditability. “Much of what we are doing is in pursuit of what Congress has legally said we must do, and that is, to become auditable,” McHugh said Tuesday. [Source: NavyTimes | Andrew Tilghman | 26 Mar 2014 ++]
DoD Benefit Cuts Update 36 ► TRICARE Program Hearing
Military advocacy groups appear divided over a Pentagon proposal to consolidate Tricare health programs, but all agree that active-duty families should not have to pay higher medical costs just because they don’t live near a military hospital. In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel 26 MAR, representatives from four military service organizations addressed the Defense Department’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal to roll Tricare Prime, Standard and Extra into a single consolidated Tricare program. The plan also would install a new fee structure based on where beneficiaries get their care. Families of active-duty troops would pay new copayments or higher cost shares at network and non-network facilities and retirees and family members would see new fees at military facilities and higher fees elsewhere. The goal is to encourage beneficiaries to get care where treatment is provided at lower cost to the government.
But the plan would increase costs significantly for military families who have limited or no access to military facilities, according to retired Air Force Col. Mike Hayden, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America. “It’s breaking the faith to change the rules for someone with 10 years — or one year — of service,” Hayden said. John Davis, legislative programs director for the Fleet Reserve Association, said FRA does not oppose Tricare consolidation but agrees the Pentagon should not shift Tricare costs to beneficiaries, nearly all of whom would see an increase in medical expenses under the plan. “FRA is concerned that Congress has not learned from past mistakes that pay caps and other benefits cuts impact negatively on retention and recruitment,” Davis said. Pentagon officials say tweaks to benefits, including Tricare, commissaries, pay raises, housing allowances and more, are needed to avoid funding shortfalls in training, maintenance and equipment.
Without the estimated $2.1 billion that the benefits proposals would save next year, and with an additional $30 billion in sequester cuts coming over the next five years, readiness and modernization will suffer, said DoD Comptroller Robert Hale. “These cuts are going to have to come out of readiness and modernization. There’s nowhere else to go,” Hale told lawmakers during the hearing. The advocacy groups oppose nearly all the proposed benefits cuts in the fiscal 2015 budget, including changes to housing, commissaries and pay increases. The Tricare proposal, they said, raises the most questions, with concerns over the costs of medical care to personnel on recruiting duty or living far from a military treatment facility, the ability of military hospitals to absorb new patients and the noticeable shortage of physicians nationwide who accept Tricare patients — or even know what Tricare is. “In this proposal, currently serving families and retirees will pay more and get less,” said MOAA’s Hayden. Lawmakers said they had concerns over the way the Pentagon was pushing the changes given that the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is studying reform of the entire pay and benefits system.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is an ardent supporter of restructuring the military pay and benefits system to reduce the overall Pentagon budget. But during the hearing, he said decisions to cut programs should wait until the commission issues its recommendations, expected in early 2015. “It’s not that I don’t trust your work product,” he told Hale and Jessica Wright, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. “We’ve got ourselves in a bind here. You’ve got a commission studying the same subject matter.” Graham implored his fellow subcommittee members to find $2.1 billion in other government spending, either within or outside the defense budget, that could be cut to cover the personnel funding gap next year while the commission finishes its work and delivers its final recommendations next February. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) asked whether DoD had studied the impact the proposed changes would have on junior enlisted troops, who would end up devoting a higher percentage of their paychecks to housing, food and health care. “I assume, because you proposed this, you all ran these numbers and really looked at rank versus how much that person will pay more. And I think that’s really important for us, to see the numbers,” Ayotte said.
Under the consolidated Tricare proposal, retirees would pay to use military treatment facilities, newly Medicare-eligible retirees would pay enrollment fees for Tricare for Life and family members of active-duty troops would pay slightly more for their health care in co-pays or higher cost-shares for some types of care at network and non-network facilities. The Pentagon estimates the Tricare proposals would save $800 million in fiscal 2015 and $9.3 billion through fiscal 2019. According to the Pentagon, the average active-duty family’s annual out-of-pocket costs would more than double to $364, increasing the family’s share of its overall health costs from 1.4 percent to 3.3 percent. The average retiree with two family members now pays $1,376 per year in health expenses; their average contribution would rise to $1,526, or 10.8 percent of the average family’s total annual health care costs.

[Source: MilitaryTimes | Patricia Kime | 26 Mar 2014 ++]

DECA Budget Cuts Update 06 ► Really | And Now A Plan
Really … Generals, admirals and defense secretaries come and go, as political administrations change; and the legacies they leave are sometimes impressive, sometimes shoddy. But undoing more than 147 years of "at-cost" commissary non-pay compensation for servicemembers and their families - that would be a disgrace we cannot imagine any of them wanting their names attached to. Quite frankly, we don't know where anyone even gets the gall to pull any corner of the financial rug out from under the military family, diminishing their de facto compensation by as much as 6 or 8 percent, as the recent proposed cuts to commissary funding could do. We do understand, of course, that a century and a half of tradition is not by itself a basis for sound policy, and we also understand that financial pressures upon DoD are strong and will be long-lasting, but ... "really?" … has the commissary benefit endured this long only to be defunded because times got tough once again, because leadership remains ignorant or skeptical regarding its value, and because DoD's favorite advisors are ideologically motivated to cut benefits to the quick?
Or worse yet, because it's the financial path of least resistance in the budget? And what would it net? Just a drop in the budget bucket - 3/10 of 1 percent. Again, Really? … Meanwhile, billions of dollars gush unmolested into the FW&A account (that's Fraud, Waste and Abuse, to borrow an accounting term), and billions of dollars of excess materiel rots in warehouses. Perhaps the most telling language in the current proposal is that which removes any concern for the needs of the servicemembers the commissary still claims to support, and replaces it with a miserly focus on getting its money back, legislating in the following manner a revised primary consideration for establishing a commissary: striking the words "needs of members of the armed forces on active duty and the needs of dependents of such members" and inserting the words "feasibility of cost recovery." All in the military community can form their own opinions of just how highly their service is appreciated, and their retention is valued, by those words. And when they realize this, we hope they will see that they need to stand up and set their leadership straight on just how valuable their commissary benefit is.
A few weeks ago, the military community mobilized against a provision in a law reducing COLA for young retirees that could cost an individual perhaps $80,000, according to some estimates, over the course of the time involved. Faced with the uproar, both houses of Congress and the White House acted immediately (well, in a time frame that passes as immediately for Congress and the White House). That part of the law was rescinded. On national television early this month, a young military wife with three children told reporters she saved $200 every two weeks by shopping in the commissary. Over the same period as the COLA restriction, the proposed commissary cuts could cost her military family much more than $80,000. This uproar should be at least as great. Don't be fooled by trade-offs for this or that other benefit - corners that surveys might try to trick you into. It's not about benefit trade-offs; it's about doing what's right by military families and funding the benefits they have earned through their service. And about DeCA continuing to do what it has done well time and time again - finding more efficiencies wherever it can reengineer its operations without harming the benefit.
We've had it with deceptions and empty promises. If you have, too, let your Representatives and your Senators know what Defense leadership is trying to get past them, and let them know that you won't stand for it. It's time the grass roots get moving before the budget lawnmower comes. Generals, admirals and defense secretaries will be replaced, and different priorities will be established. But once relinquished, this non-pay benefit will not be reinstated. Congress and the Military community - don't give it up on your watch. Really.
AND NOW, A PLAN ...Since it appears that plans to mobilize actual commissary patrons have not been fully exploited, it's time to get a very tangible one started. The ALA and the Coalition to Save Our Benefit (SOB) have engaged their valued associates in the Veterans Service Organizations (VSO), but there is a little trouble in paradise. The VSOs have other fish to fry: Tricare, for one. Those of us involved in the resale market have been advised not to lobby each other, and there's certainly some sense in not preaching to the choir, but there's also the question that if this group doesn't mobilize patrons, who the hell else will?
Industry has shown its ingenuity and resolve a thousand times before, and it can do so again. Engage commissary shoppers. Use all the resources at your disposal, including the Armed Forces Marketing Council (AFMC); and assign reps to commissaries — especially in states with chairs, vice chairs and ranking members on the military-related appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate — to stand at the door with petitions, and ask the shoppers to sign them. They could present tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of actual signatures to these constituents' legislators and to the White House and whoever else will influence the course of events in the next few months. The internet is nice, and Capwiz has an important role to play, but ground forces are urgently needed in short order. The clock is ticking. We're not lawyers, but advocating for this sort of cause doesn't appear to conflict with DoD directives, and certainly comes within First Amendment rights to petition the government for redress of grievances.
We know that brokers and vendor partners would do all they can to ensure this gets done. The material cost would be minimal — printed petition forms, clipboards and pens and letters to hand out with some website information if shoppers want to share with others. Industry already knows when — on paydays, when most shop; extra hours expended to truly save the benefit would make sense here. Thousands have been spent already on other programs, with — not very reassuringly — not much to show for it … except the hope that the compensation commission interviews real shoppers (as by all accounts it has not yet got round to the patrons who would be most affected by the funding cuts). Time to engage your energies and resources so that commissary patrons' voices are heard where they can have the most impact. Maybe then things can get pointed back in the right direction — building sales, not stacking the deck to reduce them. [Exchang3e & Commissary News | Editorial Comment | 23 Mar 2014 ++ ]
BRAC Update 36 Pentagon Wants Another Round
Each military branch has excess capacity and needs another round of base realignment and closure, defense officials told a House panel 12 MAR.  Appearing before the House Appropriations Committee's Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, officials noted varying amounts of excess capacity on U.S. bases, and sought help.  "The bottom line is: We need another round of BRAC," said Kathleen Ferguson, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics.  John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, said he knows the last round of BRAC, in 2005, left "a bad taste" in the mouths of many in Congress, but that this would be different. The key reason that one cost so much was that "we were willing to accept recommendations that did not save money," he said.  The 2005 round of BRAC was actually more like two concurrent rounds -- one for transformation and one for efficiency, Conger said. 
Altogether, the BRAC cost about $35 billion, and $29 billion of that was for the transformation piece, which only resulted in about $1 billion in yearly savings, Conger said. The efficiency piece cost $6 billion and resulted in recurring savings of $3 billion each year, he said.  Now, the military is requesting just the "efficiency" piece, Conger said. "We don't want to be wasting money on unneeded facilities," he said.

  • The Army has an average of 18 percent excess capacity at U.S. bases, according to a recent facility capacity analysis, and end-strength reductions will increase that excess capacity even more, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. 

  • The Air Force does not have a recent capacity analysis, but had 24 percent excess capacity in 2004, Ferguson said. The last round of BRAC only helped with a very small portion of that extra space, and the Air Force has reduced active-duty end strength by nearly 8 percent since then, she said, so officials know there is plenty of excess that could be closed. 

  • The Navy also doesn't have a recent analysis, but does know they have some excess capacity and supports a new round of BRAC, said Dennis McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment. 

Still, members of the committee noted their displeasure with the 2005 BRAC process, and worried that the Pentagon is not budgeting enough for military construction in fiscal 2015.  The military construction request for fiscal 2015 is $6.6 billion, about 40 percent lower than the request for fiscal 2014.  "I haven't seen requests this low for a long, long time," said Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), the ranking member of the committee.  Conger, Ferguson, Hammack and McGinn said the smaller request is the result of efforts to meet the requirements of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013; they said the services are willing to take a risk in cutting facilities maintenance so they can use more funding to support warfighters.  But Rep. John Culberson, the Texas Republican who serves as the subcommittee's chairman, called the low number "shocking," and said he does not want troops and their families to be neglected.  "We love you and we want to help," he said, adding that the committee would try to find a way to fund maintenance and construction programs.  [Source: Stars and Stripes | Jennifer Hlad | 13 Mar 2014 ++ ]
BRAC Update 37 CNO Says He Sees No Need
In what may provide some reassurance to coastal communities that are dependent on military spending, the Navy's top admiral says he doesn't see a great need for the Navy to go through another round of base closures. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert made the comments during a visit to Mayport Naval Station in Florida last week. The Defense Department has requested that Congress approve a round of base closings - known as BRAC, or Base Closure and Realignment - to begin in 2017 so it can stop paying for unneeded infrastructure. While the Defense Department has not specified which bases might be targeted, Greenert said he doesn't see a lot of excess capacity in the Navy. "Mayport will be a part of our future for as far into the future as I can see. Some people say, 'Gee whiz, are we going to BRAC?' I don't see that," Greenert said during a webcast all-hands call with sailors. Army officials have said they support going through closures to align their infrastructure needs with a declining force size.
Defense officials have said there's a significant amount of unneeded infrastructure that needs to be eliminated. "We need another round of BRAC," Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale said in a media briefing earlier this month, according to a Defense Department transcript. "We've got at least 25 percent unneeded infrastructure in this department. And if we can't get Congress to allow us to close it, then we're simply going to waste the taxpayers' money, frankly." Members of Congress largely have been reluctant to approve a round of base closures out of fears their home states could lose bases and significantly damage local economies. In Hampton Roads, about 45 percent of the economy is dependent upon defense spending, according to Old Dominion University's 2013 state of the region report.
"I'm very satisfied with our laydown of our bases as we look around the world," Greenert told reporters after the all-hands call. "So we have Mayport, and we have Hampton Roads. We have two fine fleet concentration areas there on the East Coast, good balance there with, you know, with Connecticut with submarines. People ask me, 'Do you have the need? Do you see a great need for BRAC?' I say, 'No, I don't.' " Local base advocates welcomed Greenert's comments but said they're still not letting their guard down. "I would rather hear the CNO say that than something else - that they're very aggressively seeking BRAC," said Craig Quigley, executive director of Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance. "But it's certainly nothing that we're ever going to take for granted." [Source: AP | Brock Vergakis | 25 Mar 2014 ++]
DoD Religious Expression Update 03 ► Sikh Alleged Enlistment Ban
A bipartisan group of 105 lawmakers urged the Defense Department on 10 MAR to make it easier for practicing Sikh Americans who wear beards and turbans to serve in the military. The House members wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling for an end to a “presumptive ban” on Sikhs serving. Under a policy announced in January, troops can seek waivers on a case-by-case basis to wear religious clothing, seek prayer time or engage in religious practices. Approval depends on where the service member is stationed and whether the change would affect military readiness or the mission. A request can be denied only if it is determined that the needs of the military mission outweigh the needs of the service member. But the Sikh Coalition, a group that advocates for the estimated half-million Sikhs living in the U.S., says the bureaucratic hurdles remain a disincentive, as waivers are not guaranteed and must be constantly renewed.

Guneet Lamba pins a new corporal insignia on the camouflage turban of her husband, Cpl. Simranpeet Lamba, the Army’s only enlisted Sikh soldier

In the last 30 years, only three Sikhs have received permission to serve in the Army while maintaining their articles of faith, namely turbans and unshorn hair, including beards. The lawmakers’ letter cites the service of the three Sikhs, among them Maj. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi. He earned a Bronze Star Medal for his service in Afghanistan, which included treating multiple combat injuries and reviving two clinically dead patients. “Given the achievements of these soldiers and their demonstrated ability to comply with operational requirements while practicing their faith, we believe it is time for our military to make inclusion of practicing Sikh Americans the rule, not the exception,” said the letter. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, said he could not comment on the defense secretary’s correspondence. But he said the policy announced in January would enhance commanders’ and supervisors’ ability to maintain good order and discipline, while reducing “both the instances and perception of discrimination among those whose religious expressions are less familiar to the command.” Previously, there had been no consistent policy across the military services to allow accommodations for religion. But now, for example, Jewish troops are able to seek a waiver to wear a yarmulke, or Sikhs can seek waivers to wear a turban and grow a beard. [Source: Associated Press | Matthew Pennington | 11 Mar 2014 ++]

DoD Retirement Update 01 ► Negative Reaction to Change Proposal
The Pentagon’s new proposal for reforming military retirement is drawing sharply negative reactions from today’s career-minded service members, according to a recent survey of Military Times active-duty readers. By a margin of more than two to one, active-duty troops said they oppose the Defense Department’s proposal that would scale back the size of the lifetime monthly retirement payments promised to troops who serve 20 years or more. That proposal, unveiled 6 MAR, would compensate troops for the smaller pension by providing more cash-based benefits earlier in life, such as retention pay at 12 years lump-sum transition pay for those who leave with 20 years or more, and tax-free government contributions to retirement investment accounts for all troops starting at three years of service and fully vesting at six years. Only about one in four active-duty troops thinks the underlying idea of offering more cash and smaller pension checks may have merit, according to a survey of 2,737active-duty troops who are on the Military Times subscriber list and were contacted individually by email.
A major concern among survey respondents is the issue of grandfathering current troops from any changes. The Pentagon’s proposal explicitly states that today’s troops could keep their current retirement package — and perhaps could opt into a new package if they chose. Only future recruits would have no say in the matter. But many troops instinctively oppose retirement reform efforts because they simply don’t trust the Pentagon’s assurances about a grandfather clause. “That is what they say, but I do not 100 percent believe that. We live in a moment now where I would say everything is uncertain in the military,” said an Air Force major in San Antonio who asked not to named. The new proposal comes at a time of deep cynicism among troops about their military compensation. For more than a year, the top brass has repeatedly said today’s pay and benefits system is too costly and needs to be capped, and a number of proposals for rolling back various compensation programs has emerged from the Pentagon in recent months.
That distrust of Washington decision-makers was magnified in December, when lawmakers on Capitol Hill passed a law limiting annual cost-of-living adjustments in military retired pay for current retirees, which emerged as part of an 11th-hour deal on a governmentwide budget agreement. The military community erupted in outrage, prompting Congress to repeal the law for current retirees several weeks later. The Defense Department sent its new proposal for retirement reform to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which is studying all compensation programs and is due to provide a final report to Congress early next year. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Welch, who is a few months shy of his 20-year mark, said he opposes the plan, but acknowledged that some aspects could work well for a future generations of troops. The prospect of a full military pension was “a big reason I decided to re-enlist 10 years ago,” Welch said in an interview after taking the survey. He said discussions about changing the current system make him nervous, regardless of assurances about grandfathering today’s force. Yet he agreed with one aspect of the DoD plan that would allow active-duty troops to transfer into the reserves and still be eligible for some level of retirement pay immediately upon leaving service, rather than having to wait until age 60, as is now the case. Welch said that would appeal to a lot of soldiers who are ready to move back into the civilian sector but who, under today’s system, are compelled to continue serving until the 20-year mark to lock in their active-duty retirement benefits. “The soldiers I’ve worked with, a lot of them wouldn’t mind doing 15 years active and then five in the reserves. I think if they knew they could still get a pension, they would jump on that bandwagon,” Welch said.
DoD’s proposals are based on the belief that troops place a higher value on cash benefits earlier in life — for example, a large lump-sum transition payment for troops separating after 20 years of service — rather than steady pension checks in old age. Studies suggest changes based on that principle would allow DoD to reduce the total lifetime value of a military retirement package by about 10 percent without hurting retention. But some service members question that assumption. One Navy commander who asked not to be named said many younger retirees would face real-world pressures to spend that money immediately after getting out, rather than investing it to supplement their retirement income later in life. “Those ideas sound good on paper,” the commander said. “But if you give me $300,000 and you put me in a very poor job market, I am going to be spending that money not on my long-term retirement, but just trying to stay afloat. I would say that reduction of payments at the latter end [of life] is probably the wrong direction to move. That’s when people tend to have the least amount of income security.”
The Military Times readers survey was conducted from March 11 to March 13. Younger troops, including junior enlisted and junior officers who make up the majority of the force, are not proportionally represented among the respondents. As a result, the survey results are not intended to reflect a true cross-section of the entire force. Older troops, for the most part, are far more skeptical of changing the retirement system than younger troops. “Leave everything the way it is. The system is not broken — stop trying to fix it,” said one Army staff sergeant in his 16th year of service. One Marine gunnery sergeant with 16 years in uniform said in his survey comments that today’s retirement package is not overly generous in the context of the full range of sacrifices that service members make.“Our lifestyle is unlike any other career,” he said. “Our children and our spouses have to move every two to four years. Our spouses never get a good chance to make a career. Our children are ripped away from their friends when we move. Our bodies are worked strenuously through [physical training]. ... Our retirement should reflect what we’ve given our country over the past 20 years.”
Although the number of younger troops in the survey is somewhat limited, the results suggest they are more open to the possibilities being suggested by the Pentagon. For Army Capt. Ben White, a 26-year-old West Point graduate who is unsure of whether he’ll stay in uniform for 20 years, the retirement issue is part of a larger debate about how the military is managed. “To me, the 20-year cliff retirement is just a symptom,” White said. “It’s really a much bigger issue. A lot of the way we do things is based on a 1950s model ... a centrally planned, socialist economic model as opposed to the more free-market ways of doing things that are much more efficient. “There needs to be a more competitive work environment. I think we should allow commanders to hire and fire people. Making rank and pay should be contingent on positions and responsibilities as opposed to [the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act] year-groups where, essentially, if you breathe, you get promoted at a certain point,” White said.
Many troops are skeptical of the argument made by top Pentagon officials that reductions in compensation costs are needed to free up funding to pay for weapons modernization and high-tech research. About three in four troops surveyed said they disagree. “Spending money on more sophisticated weapons is just a recipe for contractor greed,” one Army colonel commented in his response to the survey. “The fact is, we get our ass handed to us by some guy with an AK-47 or RPG in the back of a Toyota pick-up.” In the end, for many of today’s troops, military service feels like a family business. And changing the retirement system might affect whether those family traditions carry on. “We’ve already had that discussion in my family,” said the Air Force major in San Antonio, whose two grown sons are considering military careers. “I’m like, ‘What I’ve been promised, and what my retirement is, may not be the package that you get if you go into the military.’ I think a lot of families are having those discussions. There is an awareness that that could change.” [Source: MilitaryTimes | Andrew Tilghman | 13 Mar 2014 ++]
QDR 2014 Update 01 ► Presumes More Risk, Less Money in Future
The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review isn't like previous reviews, a senior Defense Department official said in Washington D.C.11 MAR.. Christine E. Wormuth, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The QDR is a congressionally mandated review of DOD strategy and priorities. It is intended to set the course for the department to address current and future conflicts and threats. The review this year was completed in about half the usual time, Wormuth said, and in an environment marked by tremendous uncertainty. The past 18 months of fiscal uncertainty have pushed the department into a near-continuous cycle of evaluation and planning, she said.
A break usually follows the department's annual program review cycle, the deputy undersecretary said, but last year, the department went straight into planning for sequestration. "We then undertook the Strategic Choices in Management Review, and then ... segued straight into the QDR 2014 process, as well as the next program review cycle," Wormuth said. "So, it's been a very challenging time." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel thought it was important to take this QDR -- the first since he took office -- as an opportunity to look at the security environment and re-examine the strategy to lay out his vision for the department, she said. "He gave us a lot of upfront guidance -- the day-to-day process was co-chaired by then-Deputy Secretary Ash Carter, and our vice chairman, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, [and] they were very, very involved," Wormuth said. Carter and Winnefeld also were co-chairs of the budget review, she noted, which allowed for ideas to cross over between the two processes. And although it was a shorter, more compressed QDR than usual, she said, the department made every effort to continue the tradition of having the QDR be inclusive, transparent and collegial.
"We had representation from all of the services, all of the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] organization, all of the combatant commands, etc.," Wormuth said. "So, we really tried to sort of involve everyone. That, of course, doesn't mean that every organization was happy with where we wound up, but I think it's fair to say that all parts of the building had a voice in the process, and that's very important to having a coherent ... result at the end that has integrity." The underlying theme in the report is the kinds of risks that the department believes the return of sequestration in fiscal year 2016 poses to the defense strategy going forward, she said. The final QDR report outlines three broad themes: an updated defense strategy, the rebalance of the joint force and the department's commitment to protecting the all-volunteer force, she said.

  • The updated strategy is one that the department believes "is appropriate for the United States as a global leader," Wormuth said. "It's a strategy that we believe helps us protect our interests and advance those interests in the world and helps us sustain our global leadership role."

  • The second objective addresses managing the joint force given the current strategic and fiscal environments, Wormuth said.

  • And the third piece of the QDR report outlines how the department will continue to recruit and retain service members while becoming more efficient and effective, she said. In particular, the deputy undersecretary said, this section looks at reining in the growth of compensation packages to maintain a balanced force going into the future.

The 2014 QDR is an evolution of strategy as opposed to a revolution in strategy, Wormuth said. "The administration had our strategic priorities pretty much right in the 2012 defense strategic guidance," she said. "So we really went from the 2010 QDR, which was very focused on the two current wars at the time [in] Iraq and Afghanistan to the 2012 defense strategic guidance, where we tried to lay out some of the important defense priorities for the 21st century. "And now, with the QDR 2014," she continued, "[we are] building on that set of priorities to try to put the strategy in a slightly broader framework and really look forward to the kinds of challenges and opportunities we face in the future." The review process started with a discussion of the security environment, Wormuth said. "And I think it's fair to say we see the security environment as ... continuing to be quite challenging," she added. "It's volatile. There are a lot of threats out there." But, she said, there is also opportunity. "So, in that context, we've tried to lay out an updated strategy that has three basic pillars," the deputy undersecretary said.

  • The first pillar is protecting the homeland, she said. This is a shift from the 2012 defense strategic guidance, Wormuth said, which didn't cover the department's role in managing the consequences of natural disasters, for example.

  • Building global security is the second pillar in the strategy, she said. This includes things such as building partnership capacity, joint exercises, military-to-military engagement and port visits, she explained."And really, the goal of that part of our strategy is to try to deter conflict at the earliest point possible," Wormuth said, "to try to prevent coercive behavior, for example, and to sort of proactively and positively shape the environment, so that we're trying to prevent conflict rather than having to deal with it after it's already manifested."

  • The third pillar of the strategy is projecting power and winning decisively, she said. "Whether that's to be able to respond to conflict, or whether it's to come to the aid of a country like the Philippines when they were dealing with their typhoon," she said, "we want to be able to do both of those, and, if necessary, to deal with aggression when and if it happens."

The QDR report emphasizes innovation and adaptability, Wormuth said. "I think in the past," she told the audience, "the department has often talked about innovation or efficiency in the context of sort of better business practices. ... Here, we're trying to think about that, certainly, but to go beyond that and thinking about how can we build in innovation into the strategy itself -- into how we try to execute that strategy." To that end, the department conducted an extensive review of the operational concepts for some of its war plans to try to push innovation in those areas, Wormuth said. "We've also done things like looking carefully at the way we deploy forces to conduct forward presence activities," she added. And, Wormuth said, the department is pursuing innovation with some of its closest allies and partners. "We've had extensive dialogue with the Brits, in particular, looking at how we can do more in terms of joint training, how we can leverage the fact that they will be buying joint strike fighters, and how we can do more to train for, say, carrier operations, but also to work with them on strategic planning activities," she said.

The big-picture view, she said, is that at the president's budget level, which is $115 billion more than the cap imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2013, DOD can execute the strategy outlined in the QDR, "although we will experience increased risk in some areas." For example, Wormuth said, the department will have some challenges in terms of readiness that will cause it to be more selective in the kinds of engagement activities that it can do. The report also talks at length about rebalancing the force to align it to the new strategic pillars, she said. "What we're trying to do, given the fiscal environment, is to reshape the force in such a way that it remains in balance between capacity -- the size of our forces -- capability, which is sort of shorthand for the level of modernization of our forces, and also the readiness level of our forces." To do that, Wormuth said, the department will have to undertake some of the steps outlined in the department's budget proposal, including reducing the size of the active Army and Marine Corps and cutting platforms such as the Air Force's A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-support fighter. The department will continue to make investments in capabilities important to executing the strategy, she said, such as counterterrorism and cyber. And, Wormuth said, DOD remains focused on continuing to fight sexual assault and suicides and is making sure that programs that support families, transition assistance and wounded warriors are protected.
The current rate of growth for compensation programs is not sustainable over time, Wormuth said, and so the department has proposed a series of "relatively modest reforms" in the 2015 budget proposal to try to slow the growth. "So, things like slowing the size of the pay raise, for example, or making some reductions to our base housing allowance program or reducing, to some extent, the subsidy for our commissaries," Wormuth said. "Those are all things that we think we have to do in order to keep our force healthy overall." If sequestration spending cuts return in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, she said, "we believe that the risk to our strategy will rise significantly." The department would have to reduce the size of the force further, Wormuth said, adding that the active Army would be reduced to about 420,000 personnel. The Marine Corps would come down to 175,000 personnel, the Navy would lose a minimum of one carrier, and the Air Force would lose the KC-10 Extender tanker. "We would also have to go into the modernization accounts and cut those much more deeply," she said, "which we think would put at risk our ability to keep pace with [anti-access/area-denial] developments, for example."
In combination, all of those things would have a very damaging impact on the defense strategy and place the nation's security at risk, both home and abroad, the deputy undersecretary said. "Because of capacity challenges under permanent sequestration, it would be harder to build security globally," Wormuth said. "We would have a harder time generating sufficient forward presence to do all of the partnership activities that we think are necessary around the world." It's because of these kinds of risks that the president and the secretary decided to put forward a defense budget that is significantly higher than the Budget Control Act-level caps, Wormuth said. "We think that the strategy we've put forward is the right strategy for the country," she added, "and we think the additional resources are needed and warranted to be able to execute that strategy." [Source: AFPS | Claudette Roulo | 11 Mar 2014 ++]
QDR 2014 Update 02 ► Pentagon Official Disputes HASC Rejection
A senior Pentagon official fired back at House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, who rejected the US Defense Department’s latest military strategy review earlier this month. McKeon has said the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is “in defiance of the law.” The California Republican, in a statement issued on 4 MAR shortly after the QDR was released, charged that the document “provides no insight into what a moderate-to-low risk strategy would be, is clearly budget driven, and is shortsighted.” David Ochmanek, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development, dismissed, point-by-point, McKeon’s three major criticisms of the QDR. Ochmanek, who works in the Pentagon’s policy office, was part of the team that conducted and wrote the QDR. “I admit there is a certain pride of authorship,” Ochmanek said 18 MAR during a question-and-answer session following a speech at a Precision Strike Association conference in Springfield, Va. “I’m probably not an objective judge of our product, but at least the three specific charges that Chairman McKeon leveled at the QDR are at least debatable.”

David Ochmanek

  • McKeon immediately rejected the QDR upon its release, saying the strategy document is “heavily constrained by low budget levels. “The law requires the QDR to identify resources not included in the Pentagon’s [five] year spending plan,” McKeon said. “The whole point of the review is to identify the budget needed to address the evolving threat.” Ochmanek takes issue with that argument. “We were resource informed, but we were strategy driven,” he said. “A budget-driven approach simply says to everybody [that] everyone gets a 10 percent cut, go take your cut. This wasn’t that, I could tell you.”

  • McKeon also called the QDR, “shortsighted,” saying it only looked out five years, “instead of the 20 years required by law.” Ochmanek rejected that statement, saying the QDR team looked into the 2030s during their assessment. “We looked at scenarios in 2030, we looked at the security environment in 2030 [and] we looked at the force and programs in 2030,” he said. “The report will show you the force structure at the end of the [five-year future years defense plan], because that’s as far as we’ve programmed for, but it is not factually correct to say that the QDR did not [look out 20 years] whatsoever.”

  • McKeon said the QDR assumes too much risk. “The law requires the QDR to offer a low-to-moderate risk plan for our forces and mission,” McKeon said. “By Secretary Hagel’s own admission, this QDR accepts additional risks.” Ochmanek said DoD’s analysis says otherwise.

“I can tell you what my boss said, what [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel said, which is that the force we are programming at the president’s budget level will be capable of executing the strategy,” he said. “There will be some elevated risk in some mission areas, but those risks, we judge, will be manageable.” McKeon said he would “require the department to rewrite and resubmit a compliant report.” Ochmanek said DoD would re-do the QDR if mandated by legislation. [Source: Defense News | Marcus Weisgerber | 18 Mar 2014 ++]


VA Care ~ Cold Injuries How To Obtain Benefits
Servicemembers have been exposed to extreme cold in combat and military training missions. The major cold injuries they suffer include frostbite, non-freezing cold injuries, immersion foot (formerly called trench foot), and hypothermia. The risk of cold injury depends on several environmental conditions including temperature, wind and moisture, in combination with physical activity, the duration of exposure, and amount of protection. The individual’s level of fitness and cold susceptibility also contribute to the risk. If you are concerned about health problems associated with cold injuries, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator who can be located at . Veterans may have been exposed to extreme cold without adequate protection during:

  • World War II: The Battle of the Bulge, fought in December 1944 through January 1945 under conditions of extreme cold

  • Korean War: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, conducted from October 1950 through December 1950 in temperatures that dropped to 50 degrees F below zero, with a wind chill factor of 100 degrees F below zero.

  • Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan Other campaigns or circumstances during military service, including training.

Health problems associated with cold injuries Cold injuries may result in long-term health problems, including the following signs and symptoms (at the site of exposure):

  • Changes in muscle, skin, nails, ligaments, and bones

  • Skin cancer in frostbite scars

  • Neurologic injury with symptoms such as bouts of pain in the extremities, hot or cold tingling sensations, and numbness

  • Vascular injury with Raynaud’s Phenomenon with symptoms such as extremities becoming painful and white or discolored when cold

VA has developed a guide for clinicians on how to diagnose and treat cold injuries. Veterans and others also may be interested. The guide is available at . If you are concerned about health problems associated with cold injuries during your military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator. VA offers a variety of health care benefits to eligible Veterans. For additional info in this refer to If you are not enrolled in the VA health care system find out if you qualify for VA health care. Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to cold injuries during military service. To file a claim online go to VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis. [Source: Mar 2014 ++]

VA Health Care Access Update 07 ACA/VA Signup Encouraged
The Obama administration is encouraging military veterans to sign up for Obamacare as it pulls out all the stops to maximize enrollment ahead of the 31 MAR deadline. The Department of Veterans Affairs sent veterans and other Americans in its database a seven-page color brochure titled “The Affordable Care Act: For Veterans Who Need Health Care Coverage,” with a letter dated 7 MAR that appears addressed to individuals who don't use VA health insurance. The packet urges them to enroll in either VA coverage or Obamacare to ensure that they meet the federal mandate to carry health insurance or pay a fine. A VA spokesman told the Washington Examiner that the department estimates that up to 1.3 million veterans are uninsured, about 1 million of whom are eligible for VA health care. The spokesman did not dispute that the VA also is seeking to encourage uninsured veterans to consider Obamacare as a health insurance option. The VA is collaborating with other departments on the implementation of Obamacare, the spokesman said.

“We will continue our education and outreach efforts so veterans know the health care law does not affect their VA health benefits or out-of-pocket costs, and that veterans enrolled in VA health care do not need to take additional steps to meet ACA's new coverage standards. We will also encourage veterans' family members not enrolled in a VA health care program to obtain coverage through the health insurance marketplaces,” the VA spokesman said in an email exchange. In the wake of the troubled launch of the health care law in October, the Obama administration scrambled to boost enrollment to ensure the program is financially viable. The administration could fall short of its goal of seven million enrollees when open enrollment closes at month’s end, but officials are nonetheless optimistic about the program’s progress. The administration recently announced that five million people have signed up, although it’s not clear how many have paid their premiums. An individual is not considered insured until he pays his first premium.

The White House continues to aggressively push Obamacare enrollment through several avenues. President Obama has appeared on nontraditional media outlets, even conducting a mock interview with a comedian, in an effort to accelerate sign-ups among the crucial young-and-healthy demographic. Additionally, various agencies other than the Department of Health and Human Services have cooperated to encourage Americans to purchase Obamacare policies. What's unknown is how much the administration has spent on extraordinary efforts -- such as the VA mailer -- to lure more customers to the health care exchanges. HHS redirected existing funds to finance Obamacare promotion after House Republicans blocked administration requests to appropriate more money for the program. However, HHS has revealed very little on which programs or agency departments it raided to fund the effort. Health care analysts said the administration’s actions should hardly be surprising.
Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, the official nonprofit service organization for U.S. military veterans, said the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land” and could benefit veterans ineligible for VA health care. Edmund Haislmaier, a senior research fellow in health policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, said the administration is predictably doing everything it can to boost Obamacare enrollment. “It's reasonable to assume that they're just trying to increase enrollment and they're using different avenues, using various other agencies to promote enrollment, like they did with the Agriculture Department and other departments. I'm not surprised giving the timing of it -- it's another late push,” Haislmaier said. “This is the equivalent of looking for change under the sofa. They're looking for enrollees anywhere they can find them,” he added. [Source: Washington Examiner | David M. Drucker & Susan Crabtree | 24 Mar 2014 ++]
VA Stonewalling ► Unanswered Media & HVAC Inquiries
The Department of Veterans Affairs' stonewalling of questions is being showcased by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HVAC) on a new web page at that tracks a lengthy list of refusals by agency officials to answer inquiries from the media. The unanswered questions concern issues like patient deaths at VA hospitals due to inadequate care, backlogs of disability compensation claims, big bonuses paid to top VA administrators and the department's overall lack of transparency. The DVA’s stonewalling of questions is being showcased by HVAC at which tracks a lengthy list of refusals by agency officials to answer inquiries from the media. The unanswered questions concern issues like patient deaths at VA hospitals due to inadequate care, backlogs of disability compensation claims, big bonuses paid to top VA administrators and the department's overall lack of transparency.

The typical response from the VA press office is to refuse comment, issue a generic written statement or ignore the request for information, based on the list of about 70 instances of agency opaqueness highlighted on the new House web site. The VA press office has 54 full-time employees, according to official documents. “With 54 full-time public affairs employees, VA’s media avoidance strategy can’t be anything other than intentional,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) chairman of the House veterans’ committee. “What’s worse, the tactic leaves the impression that department leaders think the same taxpayers who fund the department don’t deserve an explanation of VA’s conduct,” Miller said. But in a written statement issued in response to the new website, the VA press office claimed its staff quickly responds to thousands of media inquiries every year. “At the Department of Veterans Affairs, we strive to provide accurate and timely information as we communicate every day with America’s veterans, their families, their survivors, and the American people," the statement said. "We understand and respect the media’s important role, and we work to ensure veterans understand our commitment to provide them the services and benefits they have earned and deserve," the statement said.

The House committee's page is called the "VA Honesty Project." It is a companion to other pages the committee maintains dealing with the lack of transparency at the agency. The other pages include the "VA Accountability Watch," at which pairs information about problematic offices and medical centers with data on big performance bonuses paid to their top administrators; and "Trials in Transparency," at which lists outstanding questions from the committee that have not been answered by VA. Questions from multiple national and local media outlets are on the list of the ignored, including multiple entries from the Washington Examiner. The agency’s press staff rarely responds to questions from the Examiner with specific answers. When there is a response, it normally is a written statement from an unnamed VA spokesperson.
Having a congressional committee showcase an agency's failure to respond to the media is healthy but unusual, said John Wonderlich, policy director at the non-profit Sunlight Foundation, ( which works for government openness. "It's useful for a congressional committee to have a collection of media accounts of how responsive an agency is being," Wonderlich said. "Too often, congressional committees don't pay attention to news coverage or the public affairs work of the agencies that they oversee." [Source: Washington Examiner | Mark Flatten | 24 Mar 2014 ++]
VA Stonewalling Update 01 ► HVAC VA Honesty Project
The goal of VA Honesty Project is simple: to highlight the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lack of transparency with the press and the public about its operations and activities. Because the Department of Veterans Affairs is a taxpayer funded organization, it has a responsibility to fully explain itself to the press and the public. Unfortunately, in many cases VA is failing in this responsibility, as department officials – including 54 full-time public affairs employees – routinely ignore media inquiries. VA Honesty Project documents nearly 70 recent instances in which VA has failed to respond to reporters’ requests for information or refused to answer specific questions. The department’s apparent disregard for the press has become an object of reporters’ scorn, leading some to openly accuse VA of “thumbing their nose at us” and others to write entire articles focusing on VA’s stonewalling tactics. VA Honesty Project will be continually updated with new examples of VA refusing to respond to the press as they arise.
The house committee on Veteran Affairs (HCVA) is asking VA if they are being appropriately transparent with the press and the public. Consider the following examples in chronological order and let HCVA know what you think on Facebook at


A phone call and email to the media department at the VA wasn’t returned, and an email to VA Secretary General Eric Shinseki was also not answered.” (Michael Volpe, “Drugs, corruption go unpunished in Mississippi VA center,” The Daily Caller, 3/19/14)


Calls to the VA seeking comment were not returned.” (Donovan Slack, “Wis. delegation pushes VA on claims backlog,” Gannett, 3/16/2014)


“Each time we've asked the VA for an interview on this, since we broke the story on the data breach earlier this year, we've been emailed a similar response.

Most recently being told, "The VA has in place a strong, multi-layered defense to combat evolving cybersecurity threats. The VA is committed to protecting veteran information." None of the VA's responses have directly addressed that breach of privacy for thousands of vets.” (Jon Camp, “I-Team: Congress members concerned about lack of response from VA over data breach,” ABC Raleigh, 3/7/2014)


“We did ask VA Public Affairs to get us an explanation directly from Petzel, but so far there has been no response.” (“Reports show conflicting statements about patient deaths at Atlanta VA Medical Center,” ABC Atlanta, 3/5/2014)


“VA officials did not respond directly to allegations in the report, and would not say what action was taken against the supervisors or if the unnamed employee was fired.” (Leo Shane, “IG: Managers let VA employee get away with cheating agency,” Military Times, 3/4/2014)


“VA spokeswoman Laura Schafsnitz said she submitted Jan. 29 questions from The Courier-Journal to higher-ranking officials, but after more than three weeks, no answers were provided.”


“The Courier-Journal asked VA officials and Galloway whether he was paid separately for each appraisal. Neither would comment. Nor would VA officials comment on whether they had made an offer to landowner Jonathan Blue of Blue Equity LLC, based on the earlier appraisal.” (Tom O’Neill, “VA Hospital land appraisals questioned,” The Courier-Journal, 3/4/14)


[Denver VAMC Public Information Officer Daniel] Warvi denied our requests for a follow-up interview and hung up the phone.” (Amanda Kost and Jennifer Kovaleski, “'Patient safety issue' caused by Denver VA Medical Center parking; Rep. Mike Coffman pushes for fix,” ABC Denver, 3/3/2014)

Download 0.52 Mb.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

The database is protected by copyright © 2024
send message

    Main page