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THE AMERICAN LEGION

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Legion News

EMP threat ‘as real as the sun’

Members of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack recently informed Congress that “the nation faces a potentially imminent and existential threat of nuclear EMP attack from North Korea.”

Such an attack, carried out by a nuclear device detonated high above the central part of the continental United States, could fry the U.S. electric-power grid and lead to the deaths of some 90 percent of the U.S. population. Even a smaller-scale EMP attack, carried out by a warhead detonated at low altitude above the eastern seaboard “could blackout the Eastern Electric Power Grid that supports most of the population and generates 75 percent of U.S. electricity.”

As former CIA director James Woolsey concludes, “The EMP threat is as real as the sun and ... as real as nuclear threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.”

Nightmares

Some observers dismiss the threat posed by North Korea and Iran, arguing that these third-rate regional powers could do little to harm U.S. territory or the American people. But as Peter Pry, who served on the EMP Commission, points out, “The military doctrines of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran describe a revolutionary new kind of warfare that would use cyberattacks and physical sabotage, combined and coordinated with EMP attack, to blackout the national electric grid and crash the other critical infrastructures.”

While Russia and China are responsive to deterrence and the threat of overwhelming retaliation, a paranoid Pyongyang and a terrorist Tehran may not be.

William Graham, who chaired the EMP Commission, explains that “North Korea could make an EMP attack against the United States by launching a short-range missile off a freighter or submarine or by lofting a warhead to 30-km burst height by balloon. While such lower-altitude EMP attacks would not cover the whole U.S. mainland, as would an attack at higher-altitude (300 km), even a balloon-lofted warhead detonated at 30 kilometers altitude could blackout the Eastern Grid.” According to Pry, “North Korea has actually practiced this against the United States.”

Likewise, the Iranian military has contemplated such an attack against the U.S. homeland. “We have data indicating that the Iranians have launched their versions of Scuds off of the Caspian Sea – not from land, but from the sea – and launched them over land,” Graham explained in a Forbes interview. “We’ve also seen them launch missiles that have gone up and apparently exploded near their highest altitude -- when you put those two ideas together -- that is an EMP attack.”

The immediate effects of an EMP attack would be no different than power outages triggered by severe weather. But imagine those outages lasting for months -- and then imagine those outages being spread across 30 states. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

As the Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies recently detailed, radios and TVs, heating and air conditioning, cellphones, computers, landline phones, most cars built after 1980, sewer and water pumps, and vast swaths of the power grid would cease to work after an EMP event. And they would be out of service for months, throwing our technology-dependent economy society back to the 1800s.

If the attack happened in the winter, millions would be left exposed to brutal cold. In the summer, millions would suffer the effects of heat and humidity. Water supply would be compromised. Our networked just-in-time food and fuel distribution system would be crippled. Without fuel, farms wouldn’t be able to gather food, and trucks wouldn’t be able to deliver food and other basic goods. Without refrigeration, food reserves would spoil. Essential communications for transportation, emergency services, public safety and national defense would fail.

Add it all up, and an EMP attack “has the potential to be a catastrophic event that could result in paralyzing the U.S. electric grid and other key infrastructures that rely on the electric grid to function,” concludes Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who chairs a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Less prepared

It’s worth noting that U.S. citizens and cities have already been hit by an EMP. It happened in 1962, in Hawaii, when the U.S. military test-detonated a nuclear warhead 248 miles above Johnston Island. Immediately after the blast, something unexpected occurred 900 miles away: Telephone lines, power lines and electrical systems shorted out on the Hawaiian Islands.

Similarly, the Soviet military conducted nuclear tests over Kazakhstan in 1961 and 1962, which fried the entire Kazakh electric grid – an area about the size of Western Europe.

The EMP threat isn’t limited to nuclear blasts: Solar flares can trigger a “geomagnetic storm” that can have the same effect as a high-altitude EMP blast, which explains why Woolsey dryly observes that the EMP threat is “as real as the sun.” Disruptive solar flares have hit the earth many times; two of the worst solar-flare events happened in 1921 and 1859. The 1859 flare – known as the Carrington Event – destroyed telegraph lines around the world, as The Atlantic reports. A similar event today would affect upward of 130 million people and cost $2 trillion, according to The Atlantic’s analysis.

Yet with perhaps one exception, the United States finds itself less equipped and less prepared for an EMP attack or a solar-flare EMP event, even as the nation has become more dependent on the electronic devices and electric grid such an event would destroy.

The exception: The Pentagon is relocating key communications assets to Cheyenne Mountain and pouring nearly $1 billion into NORAD’s Cold War bunker. “Since 2013, the Pentagon has awarded contracts worth more than $850 million for work related to Cheyenne Mountain,” DefenseOne reports. “Because of the very nature of the way that Cheyenne Mountain is built, it’s EMP-hardened,” explains Adm. William Gortney, former commander of NORTHCOM and NORAD.

Learning

The Pentagon’s example illustrates that the United States can – if it summons the will – prepare for and guard against destructive EMP events.

Toward that end, Graham and his colleagues urged President Obama to pursue “emergency deployment of cost-effective missile defense systems” to provide a first line of defense against North Korea’s and Iran’s missile capabilities, called for “protection of electric-grid control rooms at regional balancing authorities” and “critical Extra High Voltage transformers” across the country, and called on Washington to ensure that “all high-priority critical infrastructures when upgraded or replaced ... be subject to nuclear EMP protection standard.”

In their testimony before Congress this fall, Graham and Pry urged President Trump “to post Aegis ships in the Gulf of Mexico and near the east and west coasts ... to intercept missiles launched from freighters, submarines or other platforms that might make a nuclear EMP attack on the United States” and “to develop a space-surveillance program to detect if any satellites orbited over the United States are nuclear-armed.”

In a similar vein, the EMP Coalition – with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich leading the way – has challenged government and industry to work together to harden the grid with the equivalent of industrial-scale surge protectors at key points in the grid. So-called “Faraday Cages” -- boxes that absorb electrical current – could be installed at key junctures. In addition, as The Atlantic reports, government and industry need to have replacement parts, such as industrial-scale transformers, at the ready.

In a similar vein, a 2016 Legion resolution urged Washington “to fully fund, develop and deploy a national ballistic missile defense system designed to intercept EMP attacks ... to swiftly commission the further development and installation of electronic equipment and components resistant to EMP ... (and) to expeditiously develop an EMP response plan to include necessary back-up systems and corresponding supply of electronic parts and equipment vital to a successful American defense and response in the event of such an attack.”

We could learn a lot from how previous generations of Americans prepared for and responded to threats.

President Washington called on Congress to choose “preparation and vigor” over complacency, and to summon the will “to do what our abilities and the circumstance of our finance may well justify.”

President Eisenhower cited national security in rallying support for the interstate highway system: “In case of an atomic attack on our key cities, the road net must permit quick evacuation of target areas, mobilization of defense forces and maintenance of every essential economic function.”

President Reagan established – and his administration rehearsed – detailed continuity-of-government contingency planning to ensure the survival of the republic after a Soviet attack.

These leaders understood the importance of preparedness and resiliency – and the need for action.

Estimates for hardening the grid against EMP events – whether hostile or naturally occurring – range up to $20 billion, which seems a small price to pay to protect and secure something on which our entire way of life depends.

Yet the White House and the Congress “have done nothing to protect the electric grid from a long-term blackout,” Pry has noted.

Equally worrisome: Last September – in the very same month the Pentagon terminated funding for the EMP Commission – members of the commission ominously reported that “North Korea detonated an H-bomb that it plausibly describes as capable of ‘super-powerful EMP’ attack.”

Legion testifies on pre-discharge programs for separating servicemembers

The American Legion testified before Congress on Dec. 13 during a hearing at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., about the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pre-discharge programs for separating servicemembers.

The hearing, hosted by the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, examined how the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA are managing IDES and Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) claims. Topics included progress in improving the IDES program; timeliness for processing IDES claims; effectiveness of the changes to the BDD program; VA’s reasons for eliminating the Quick Start (QS) program; training for employees involved in IDES and BDD claims; and servicemember satisfaction with the programs.

“The American Legion continues to focus on the many challenges facing today’s transitioning servicemembers,” said Gerardo Avila, deputy director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division. “The IDES program, while not perfect, has been helpful in reducing the number of days it takes to complete the medical board process which has drastically reduced the gap from separation date to receipt of benefits.”

Prior to the IDES program, Avila said the transfer of wounded, ill and injured servicemembers from DoD to VA was fragmented. This not only led to large gaps in medical care and VA disability compensation, but also placed further stress on those servicemembers who were at the crucial point of transitioning out of active duty service.

“It also hindered their ability to plan for their financial future due to their VA claims not being adjudicated for months and in some cases, years after their separation,” he said. “In many instances, it seemed that DoD and VA were using different sets of criteria to rate disabilities.

“All too often, unfit conditions received a different set of ratings from DoD compared to VA. Servicemembers were confused by this new system and many were unaware of their rights and how the process worked.”

The American Legion helps servicemembers across the United States and surrounding region, including warrior transition units located at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and in Fort Belvoir, Va. The Legion also maintains service officer staff, many of whom review exam results and represent servicemembers in hearings when warranted, at VA’s BDD sites in North Carolina and Utah.

The service officer staff, according to Avila, have assisted veterans with more than 500 BDD and QS claims quarterly. It wasn’t until recently that the Legion expanded its services and began assisting with the Medical Evaluation and Physical Evaluation Board process at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Servicemember and Family Assistance Center in Washington.

“The American Legion helps in reviewing the findings of the board, writing rebuttals and answering questions about the IDES process,” he said.

Due to ongoing concerns, Avila said the Legion supports the idea of having one compensation and pension exam and a rating decision in which the results can be accepted by both VA and DoD.

Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL)

Avila said servicemembers found unfit to continue service, for a condition that is not stable enough to assign a permanent rating, will end up on TDRL. If the individual is retired and is transitioned out of service, they will be required to undergo periodic examinations by DoD to see if the condition has improved, worsened or become stable enough to assign a permanent rating.

“The agreement and spirit of IDES is that DoD would stay out of the rating business and leave the decision to VA,” he said. “The American Legion believes that DoD is violating the principles of IDES and should not be conducting ratings.”

According to Avila, the Legion suggests that DoD communicate with the VA and inquire if the individuals’ rating have changed. By doing so, he said the one rating decision will be maintained.

“The ability to add new conditions once a servicemember is enrolled in IDES can cause issues. Medical appointments and treatment do not stop once an individual is enrolled and the probability of receiving a new diagnosis is likely,” Avila said. “By allowing new conditions to be added, the servicemember will have a complete picture of their financial outlook and can concentrate on transitioning, instead of having to think about another VA claim.”

Lack of available resources for National Guard/reserve members

In the past, The American Legion has expressed concerns about Line of Duty investigations, lack of resources available, and the accurate dissemination of information on the IDES process for National Guard/reserve members. Avila said Line of Duty investigations are crucial to proving that the disability was incurred due to their service. Without it, they will be separated with no retirement or severance.

“The American Legion would also like to see improvements in other areas as well, specifically the pre-discharge program previously referred to as BDD and the QS program,” Avila said. “Under BDD, transitioning servicemembers could file their VA disability claim between 60-180 days from their separation dates and those under 60 days could file under the QS program.”

Avila said the elimination of the QS program creates a serious concern for the Legion, especially in cases where the VA is quicker to grant service connection for conditions that are diagnosed while still in service as opposed to being diagnosed one day after.

“The goal of the program was to initiate the claim while the servicemember was still on active duty, shortening the gap from separation to the benefits receipt date. BDD intended to have the claims completed within 60 days of discharge,” he continued. “According to our two BDD field service officers, this goal was never reached. Almost all BDD claims were taking an average of 6-12 months after discharge to be completed, with QS claims taking even longer and earning the nickname ‘quick start, slow finish.’”

For Avila, he said better support is needed for National Guard and reserve members to ensure they don’t fall behind their active duty counterparts. The Legion supports a more robust presence of veterans service organizations and other private stakeholders on the DoD side.

“All of these challenges can be improved with better integration of stakeholders at all levels of the process,” Avila said. “We cannot allow this serve disparity in access of medical support between the military and veteran communities. These men and women who deserve these earned services must not continue to struggle unnecessarily.”

 

 

Legion Family members nationwide deliver the holiday spirit

On Saturday, Dec. 16, American Legion Post 145 in Avon, Ind., will host its fourth annual Indiana Blue Star Spirit of Christmas event for 70 children of military and veterans’ families who are in need. The children receive almost everything on their wish list plus clothing and shoes; and the parents are also recipients of gifts. Santa Claus will arrive in a Huey to distribute the gifts and visit with the children.

“It brings extreme joy to every one of us to put a smile on each and every child,” said Indiana Blue Star Chairman and Post 145 member Ralph “Zoc” Zoccolillo.

This December, Legion Family members across the country are delivering presents to children and families to ensure they feel the holiday spirit during this joyous season. A few other holiday-giving examples include:

  • The American Legion Department of Kansas’ Operation North Pole program at Fort Riley Army Base has been providing toys to thousands of military children since 2010. This year, nearly 1,400 military children will receive an age-appropriate gift and have the opportunity to meet Santa Claus. About 125 Legion Family members will participate in this year’s program. They dress as their favorite Christmas character, act as Santa’s elves by handing out presents, and serve cookies baked by Auxiliary members. “It’s really rewarding,” said Past National Commander and Department Adjutant Jimmie Foster. “Everybody enjoys it.”

Through donation support, the department spent nearly $18,000 on toys for the children this year, with $10,000 of it coming from the Sons of The American Legion Kansas detachment. The SAL donation “is a huge help,” Foster said.

The event also includes door prizes, face painting, games and family-orientated activities.

  • American Legion Post 16 in Lynchburg, Va., presented 120 stuff animals to the local police department. The animals are to be handed out to child victims of domestic violence, vehicle crashes and other similar incidents during the Christmas season, and beyond, to bring comfort.

  • American Legion Robert E. Coulter Jr. Post 1941 in La Grange, Ill., held its first Toys for Tots drive. The post collected 400 toys and $700 in donations for the program. “No child should wake up on Christmas without a toy,” Post 1941 member Bill Kiddon told the Chicago Tribune.

  • American Legion Costello-Monahan-Brown Post 964 in Pleasant Mount, Pa., sponsors a Christmas in the Village where children get their picture taken with Santa.

  • American Legion Post 42 in Grand Canyon, Ariz., has hosted a Christmas program for children in pre-school through third grade for the past 20 years. The children receive refreshments, sleds made out of candy canes, and knitted scarfs and hats by Legion Family members.

As your Legion Family celebrates the holidays with children and families in the community, whether it's through a Toys for Tots drive, post dinner, charity events or more, please share at www.legiontown.org.

USAA Tips: How to set financial goals for the new year

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

The end of the year is a time to reflect — to listen to your most-played songs on Spotify, watch your Facebook year-in-review and purge the list of people you follow on Instagram — but it’s also an ideal time to set financial goals for the year ahead.

While many New Year’s goals involve money (for example, a “healthy eating” resolution can include eating out less, cooking more and spending less money overall on food), other kinds of goals are solely focused on financial readiness. These are the kinds of goals that will get you on the path to financial wellness and can lead to building wealth!

Matthew Angel, Advice Director of Personal Finance at USAA, reminds us that achieving goals starts by “breaking your goal down into its smallest components — like playing a video game. With a game, you don’t start with the hardest puzzle. You start with the easiest, celebrate your win, and then move on to the next level.”

Ready to set financial goals for the new year, but not sure where to start? In this two-part series, we’ll first help you figure out how to create financial goals that hit the sweet spot between “pie in the sky” dreaming versus the kind of task you might find on a daily checklist. In part two, we’ll explore how to set financial goals tailored to your age or stage in life.

What Makes a Good Goal?

The best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. It’s a simple acronym to turn what might otherwise be vague goal-setting into an actionable plan with real results.

Specific goals should be well-defined and focused so they not only address the what, but also the why. This is one of the most important ways to set financial goals that can be broken down into clear next steps. For example, “Start a college tuition account for my eldest child” is more specific than “send my kids to college,” because it’s easier to see how the first goal can trigger a clear next step (visit a financial institution to start a college savings account) than the second.

When it comes to setting specific financial goals, don’t just use your words: get visual! As Angel suggests, “Print out a picture of where you want to go or what you want to do, and put it on the refrigerator as a visual reminder of the goal you want to achieve.” Plus, a high-traffic spot like the fridge will issue a constant reminder, keeping your goal top of mind and boosting motivation to help you stick to it.

Measurable goals are trackable goals, meaning they include metrics that will indicate how you will measure progress. And tracking your progress helps you feel more in control, which is especially important when you set financial goals, which can often feel intimidating. When setting financial goals, think about how you might measure progress, like: exactly how much money are you going to set aside each week, or month, to save for a future college fund, new home, or retirement? Think about it — achieving a goal without a measurable outcome is like tracking weight loss without a scale. The numbers simply won’t add up!

Here’s an example from Matthew Angel on goal measurement: Say you’re a 24-year-old single, enlisted male with a dream of visiting Europe in the next year. Angel advises that one way to make your goal measurable is to “…attach a number and then work your way backward toward the amount you need to save. So, if your trip will cost $5,000 and you want to travel in the next calendar year — do the math! $5000 divided by 12 months equals saving about $420 per month. Want to speed things up? The more money you save each month, the sooner you get to go on your trip.”

Attainable goals are achievable. Set yourself up for success by creating motivation momentum through pinpointing small (but regular) milestones along the way toward a larger change. Modest successes can have a big impact on confidence, which can be the fuel you need to keep going, especially if your financial goals are long-term in nature. One example of an attainable goal? Eliminate or reduce one spending habit in January, then start contributing that amount to your 401k in February. Even if the amount is not huge, the impact this has on developing new behavioral habits is definitely big and may help you challenge yourself to find another spending category to cut down in March to increase contributions in April.

Another way to set financial goals that are attainable is through accountability: communicate your goal to someone else. “If you have a spouse or significant other, it’s so important that you share your goal with that person,” says Angel. “And even if you’re single, it can be helpful to tell someone. Because one, it helps you stay honest; and two, it’s someone you share financial responsibilities with, you’re going to have to work together to achieve whatever your goal might be.”

Relevant goals are based on the current conditions and realities of your life: the right here and right now. Goals that don’t take into account the factors that directly and indirectly impact your life today (like your current job, family situation and financial status) might require major lifestyle changes to even get started, which can impede your momentum and seriously derail your confidence.

Over the years, Angel has learned that, “If you go really fast without thinking about what you’re doing, or how you’re going to do it, often times that won’t lead to the profit or the success that you’re looking for in the long term.” In other words, it’s more important that you accept and observe the reality of your current situation to set financial goals that are relevant to when you’ll make your first step.

Time-based goals have deadlines. If your goals are too open-ended, it’s likely they can drag on indefinitely, especially if you’re prone to procrastination. Of course, it’s important to have flexibility (because life happens), but make sure when you set financial goals that you’re giving yourself a specific period of time. That way, you can break up a time range into beginning, middle and end stages so you can schedule milestones to accomplish certain tasks, check in to make sure you’re still on track, or if life throws you a serious curveball, deciding whether your goals should be revised or reworked altogether.

For example: if you are trying to save $5,000 for a vacation by December, but suddenly lose your job in March, it might be better to put that savings plan on pause in case you need those funds to go towards paying essential bills while you find another job.

Check out this example of a SMART goal to get started: "Starting in January, I will automatically deduct $500 each month into a savings account in order to build a $6,000 emergency fund balance by next January.”

National commander reflects on day of infamy

The attack lasted less than two hours but the scars remain 76 years after the day that changed the world. American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan placed her hands in the bullet holes and shrapnel marks left by Japanese pilots upon the old Hickam barracks, which has since been converted into the headquarters for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

“Seeing and feeling those holes brought home the fact that this isn’t just a part of ancient history but a massive and surprise attack that was witnessed by survivors that are still with us today,” Rohan said. “We owe it to them to ensure that America remains strong and vigilant so that we will not have to fight another world war to keep the freedom that they so bravely defended.”

Rohan placed a wreath on the USS Arizona Memorial, a monument built directly above the ship’s wreckage. “Even today, you can see the oil seeping from the USS Arizona,” Rohan said. “It’s often called the tears of the Arizona. When you think of the families who lost loved ones and the crew who watched their comrades die, you can understand the sadness. But with the sadness came hope and resolve like the world had never seen before.”

One person who never lost hope after Pearl Harbor was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, according to Pulitzer Prize winning author Steve Twomey.

“For the first time in two years of war, (Churchill) felt England would live. Pearl Harbor had given him a partner, a full reliable game-changing partner,” Twomey said during his keynote address at the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration in Hawaii.

The isolationist sentiment in the United States vanished immediately after the attack.

“At the time, people were anti-war. They were pacificists,” said Charles Van Valkenburgh, a California Legionnaire who attended the commemoration. “If not for an event like Pearl Harbor, I don’t know that we would have joined the war against the Axis Powers. Even today it gets me emotional.”

Van Valkenburgh’s emotions are understandable. His grandfather, Franklin Van Valkenburgh, was the captain of the USS Arizona and earned the Medal of Honor posthumously for defending his ship until the very end.

“Stay vigilant because it only takes moments for an aggressor to change the world and it’s our responsibility to ensure it never happens again,” the younger Van Valkenburg said.

In a tribute to the fallen and the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors that were in attendance, Adm. Scott H. Swift stressed the determination and bravery that abounded among the military during the attack.

“Within the chaos that morning there was no shortage of bravery, as sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen overcame shock, uncertainty and fear in the heat of battle to find something greater within themselves: a grim determination to survive and an unwavering resolve to fight,” Swift said at the commemoration. “Unsurprisingly, in my experience, none of these heroes considers themselves as such: they all say they were just doing their job.”

Rohan, who was joined by American Legion Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck, Auxiliary National Executive Director Mary “Dubbie” Buckler, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Danny Smith and Legionnaires from the Department of Hawaii, also visited the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the USS Utah Memorial and the National Cemetery of the Pacific during her visit to the Aloha state.

Military health discussion at National Defense Forum

As a combat surgeon during the Iraq War and a member of Congress, Brad Wenstrup has a unique perspective of handling healthcare for servicemembers and their families, and preparing medical professionals for military deployments.

“We take on the responsibility to provide the deserved benefit to not only take care of our troops downrange, but to take care of them at home,” said Wenstrup, an officer in the Army reserve and a member of American Legion Post 318 Anderson Township, Ohio. “Making sure they are ready to go downrange when the call comes up but also to take care of their families, and take care of the retirees.”

Wenstrup, R-Ohio, serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Armed Services Committee, and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Health. During his time in Congress, Wenstrup is fulfilling his reserve duties by treating patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

He was among the security experts who addressed various panels Dec. 1-2 at the Reagan National Defense Forum: Reinvesting Peace Through Strength, which was held in the Presidential Library at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, in Simi Valley, Calif.

The mission of the Reagan National Defense Forum (RDNF) is to address the health of U.S. national defense and stimulate discussions that promote policies to strengthen the U.S. military. RDNF brings together leaders from across the political spectrum and key stakeholders in the defense community including members of Congress, civilian officials, military leaders and defense industry executives.

Wenstrup was joined by fellow panelists Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, director of Defense Health Agency; Dov Zakheim, former Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller/CFO); and Orie Mullen, president of Humana Military Healthcare Services.

During the session — “Military Health: Are we providing a benefit worthy of the sacrifice?” — panelists discussed the importance of quality health care and how it factors into military readiness. The discussion was intended to evaluate efforts to reform TRICARE and the military health system. The panel also examined proactive approaches to sharing resources and information between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

“Through the Defense Health Agency, we’ve been able to take a very strategic approach in how we deliver that health care,” said Bono, who is also a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery. Her personal decorations include three Defense Superior Service medals, four Legion of Merit, two Meritorious Service Medals, and two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals.

“Part of what we do in defense health system is we deal with military health, and making sure we take care of our active duty and retirees,” said Bono. “We make sure they are always at the peak of their performance, and the defense health agency allows us to do that in a way that’s very contemporary, its leading edge, and it allows us to participate with industry and others to create that type of product.”

Zakheim is a senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Senior Fellow at the CNA Corporation. “The fact of the matter is our surgeons at military facilities are simply not getting enough experience,” Zakheim said.

Another issue Zakheim addressed is the importance of getting surgeons on site immediately. “There’s this thing called the magic hour,” he explained. “If you can get to somebody who can be saved in the first 59 minutes you have a 50 percent chance of saving that person. But if you get to them in the first 23 minutes, you have a 95 percent chance of saving them. That has to happen.”

Zakheim has a lot of reservations about the way medical personnel are trained.

“We still do not train in teams, we need to,” Zakheim said. “We need our corpsman, and we need our enlisted to be absolutely up to speed with the surgeons because they operate as teams. There are only two places in this country where the surgeons are trained in a hospital. That’s just not good enough.”

Zakheim also expressed concern about the types of surgeries being performed by military doctors. “If you were involved in some, God forbid, major tragedy in this country would you want to go to somebody who helps women give birth to babies?” Zakheim asked. “You would want to go to the admiral who could take care of you. Because she’s had a lot of practice and she’s practicing the right things. So this is a very serious matter.”

Bono agrees that there is a place for working together. “With the Defense Health Agency, we have an opportunity here now to work more closely with industry to find out what some of those best practices are, that we can bring into our military health system to make them more modern, more contemporary and more relevant,” she said.

Mullen has been president of Humana Military Healthcare Services, Inc. since February 2012, and has also served as its chief executive officer. He wants to help find ways to maximize the assets and capabilities of each organization. “It’s just a great opportunity for us to talk about sharing inter-operability, and really think about how is this stuff funded and how could it be done differently,” he said.

As with any discussion involving the government, the military and the industry, the big question is money. What is the budgetary process for military health care? “My answer is very simple,” said Zakheim. “What is the budgetary cost of saving somebody’s life? Of increasing the percentage from 50 to 95? Over and over and over again?”

Bono said it’s imperative that the military receives funding to update and modernize the health system, especially given how rapidly the technology is changing and the importance of providing servicemembers the highest level of health care.

“If I look at what Secretary of Defense (Jim) Mattis is asking us to do in terms of reforming and rebuilding, then what the Defense Health Agency allows us to do is create those efficiencies and find those savings that we can not only capitalize and reinvest in our own military modernization,” Bono said.

Watch Legion testify Dec. 13 on pre-discharge programs for separating servicemembers

American Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Deputy Director Gerardo Avila will testify before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on Dec. 13 at 10 a.m. The hearing, “Pre-Discharge Claims Programs: Are VA and DoD Effectively Serving Separating Military Personnel?,” will be streamed live. Watch the testimony here.

This oversight hearing will examine how the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are managing the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) and VA’s pre-discharge programs for separating servicemembers.

The American Legion continues to focus on the many challenges facing today’s transitioning servicemembers. The IDES program, while not perfect, has been helpful in reducing the number of days it takes to complete the medical board process, which has drastically reduced the gap from separation date to receipt of benefits. The American Legion supports the idea of having one compensation & pension (C&P) exam and rating decision with the results being accepted by both VA and DoD.

While improvements have been made, The American Legion still has concerns. These include DoD rating individuals placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List, and a lack of available resources by members of the National Guard and reserves undergoing the IDES process at their home station.

National Wreaths Across America Day is Dec. 16

On Dec. 16, remembrance wreaths will be laid on the graves of America's fallen veterans throughout the country and overseas as part of National Wreaths Across America Day. The mission of the program is to "remember our fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve, and teach children the value of freedom."

This year, 1.2 million wreaths will be laid on veterans' gravesites in more than 1,200 locations. This includes the more than 200,000 wreaths that will be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.

American Legion posts and Legion Family members will participate in this annual wreath-laying program. Posts can share their wreath-laying stories on the Legion's web page www.legiontown.org.

For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. For all social media postings, use the hashtag #WreathsAcrossAmericaDay.

Legion Baseball alums Morris and Trammell elected into HoF

Former American Legion Baseball players Jack Morris and Alan Trammell became the 73rd and 74th Legion Baseball alums elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

In the last five years, 11 American Legion Baseball alums have been inducted into Cooperstown.

The longtime Detroit Tiger teammates earned the honor on Dec. 10, through the 16-member Modern Era Committee, which held deliberations and balloting this weekend at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Morris had the most wins of any pitcher in the 1980s, 216, and made five All-Star appearances in his career. He also won four World Series rings, including three straight from 1991-1993.

The right-hander played Legion Baseball for St. Paul, Minn., Christie de Parcq, competing against fellow Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor.

Morris was the 1991 World Series Most Valuable Player for his hometown Minnesota Twins.

Trammell spent his entire 20-year career as a member of the Detroit Tigers, amassing 2,365 hits, 185 home runs and 1,003 RBIs.

A six-time All-Star, Trammell led the Tigers to the 1984 World Series title, earning the World Series MVP in the process. Known for his stellar defense, Trammell earned four Gold Gloves.

Trammell was named the 1989 American Legion Baseball Graduate of the Year and played Legion Baseball in his hometown of San Diego.

The two players will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, 2018, along with any additional inductees voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January.

For a full list of American Legion Baseball players in Cooperstown, click here.

Bipartisan support for legislation expanding caregiver benefits

The American Legion and several other veterans service organizations (VSOs) recently delivered more than 180,000 signed petitions to Congress that urges lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation that will expand caregiver benefits for all disabled veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Comprehensive Caregiver Assistance Program. The bill, which the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed on Nov. 29 by a 14-1 vote, would help improve existing health care and services provided under the VA by expanding eligibility for veterans of all generations, including Vietnam-era servicemembers. It would also provide permanent, streamlined access to health care and services with a new Veterans Community Care Program.

The petitions were delivered during a press conference on Dec. 6 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. VSO representatives spoke about the importance of ensuring equal benefits to veterans of all generations. House and Senate leaders, including sponsors of the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017, were also present to voice their support and celebrate the bill’s passage last week in the Senate VA committee.

“Far too many veterans and their caregivers have been denied access to VA’s comprehensive caregivers benefits for the wrong reason,” said American Legion National Legislative Deputy Director Derek Fronabarger. “The American Legion believes eligibility for veterans’ benefits should not be based on when a veteran served, but rather how they served and their physical and mental condition upon returning home.” 

“As the daughter of a World War II veteran who visits with veterans in my home state of Washington, I have seen firsthand the vital role that caregivers fulfill,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a senior Senate VA committee member who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “It is impossible to overstate the value of having a family member or a loved one, by your side, while overcoming an illness or coping with an injury.

“The sacrifice that many caregivers make to provide vital day-to-day care for our wounded veterans often goes unnoticed. Taking care of our veterans means taking care of the caregivers who help make their recovery possible.”

Under VA’s current Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, only veterans who served on or after 9/11 are eligible for enhanced support. The Caring for Our Veterans Act seeks to provide caregiver benefits to veterans injured before May 7, 1975. Veterans who were injured between 1975 and 2001 would be eligible two years after this bill is enacted.  

“We made a promise to care for our brave men and women when they return home from war – that includes supporting our caregivers,” Murray said. “We cannot stop until we get this done.”

Fronabarger said the nation should not and cannot treat veterans differently based only on their service. He said that withholding caregiver benefits of those who served before 9/11 is not giving them the respect and dignity they deserve.

“It is our hope to correct a serious flaw in the original caregiver legislation by removing the discriminatory barriers that prevent some of our nation’s most deserving veterans, and their caregivers, from receiving the comprehensive assistance they have earned,” he said. “The American Legion supports any responsible legislation that expands caregiver support to all veterans.” 

“Caregivers are true partners in the delivery of health care to veterans and they deserve quality support,” said Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Penn. “It is time that we expand this program to veterans of all generations.”

The Caring for Our Veterans Act is now awaiting a vote in the full Senate. If passed, the bill would provide about $4 billion for the Veterans Choice Fund and create standards for timely payment to community care providers.

“Often, caregivers put their lives on hold to provide full-time assistance to the veteran. This can take an immense toll on families, relationships, bank accounts and the health and well-being of caregivers,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., SVAC’s ranking member who introduced the bill. “We cannot rest easy until our efforts to expand the VA’s caregiver support program comes to fruition. Republicans, democrats and independents must continue to work together to get this legislation across the finish line and signed into law.”

 

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