Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, December 11, 2018 which is International Mountain Day, National Noodle Ring Day, Holiday Food Drive for Needy Animals Day, National App Day.
This Day in History:
- 1994: In the largest Russian military offensive since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks pour into the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. Encountering only light resistance, Russian forces had by evening pushed to the outskirts of the Chechen capital of Grozny, where several thousand Chechen volunteers vowed a bitter fight against the Russians.
- 1941: On this day, Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States, bringing America, which had been neutral, into the European conflict. The bombing of Pearl Harbor surprised even Germany. Although Hitler had made an oral agreement with his Axis partner Japan that Germany would join a war against the United States, he was uncertain as to how the war would be engaged. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor answered that question. On December 8, Japanese Ambassador Oshima went to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop to nail the Germans down on a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop stalled for time; he knew that Germany was under no obligation to do this under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, which promised help if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor. Von Ribbentrop feared that the addition of another antagonist, the United States, would overwhelm the German war effort.
- 1969: Paratroopers from the U.S. Third Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, depart from Vietnam. The unit was sent to Vietnam in February 1968 as an emergency measure in response to the Communist 1968 Tet Offensive. Landing at Chu Lai, the unit was attached to the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) and given the mission of protecting the ancient capital of Hue in the region just south of the Demilitarized Zone. In September 1968, the Third Brigade was moved south to counter enemy forces around Saigon. It was assigned to the Capital Military Assistance Command and ordered to secure the western approaches to the city to prevent ground and rocket attacks against the Saigon-Tan Son Nhut airport complex.
- On this day in 1777, General George Washington begins marching 12,000 soldiers of his Continental Army from Whitemarsh to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, for the winter. As Washington’s men began crossing the Schuylkill River, they were surprised by a regiment of several thousand British troops led by General Charles Cornwallis. Cornwallis came across the continental forces by chance as he followed General William Howe’s orders to forage for supplies in the hills outside Philadelphia.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Stripes: Last-ditch effort to pass Blue Water Navy bill fails in Senate
- Military.com: 5 Marines Declared Dead After Service Calls Off Search for KC-130J Crew
- Stripes: Dartmouth study finds VA hospitals outperform others in same regions
- The Atlantic: The U.S. Is Paying More Than It Bargained for in the Yemen War
- Military Times: Trump changes his mind again on military spending, now wants a big boost next year
- The Stripes: Army rescinds reprimand for Niger ambush that left four dead, report says
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Stripes: Last-ditch effort to pass Blue Water Navy bill fails in Senate
By NIKKI WENTLING | Stars and Stripes | Published: December 10, 2018
WASHINGTON — A final deal to provide Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to thousands of veterans who served off the coast during the Vietnam War failed in the Senate on Monday nightwith only days remaining in the 115th Congress.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would extend eligibility for disability compensation and health care to “Blue Water” Navy veterans – servicemembers who were aboard aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and other ships, some of whom have fought for years to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange. The dioxin-laden herbicide has been found to cause respiratory cancers, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, as well as other conditions.
The House voted 382-0 in favor of the legislation in June. Since then, it’s been stuck in the Senate. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie voiced his opposition to the bill in September, citing cost concerns and insufficient scientific evidence. He urged lawmakers to hold off until a new study is released in 2019.
On Monday night, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., went to the Senate floor and asked for unanimous consent to pass the bill. Unanimous consent expedites approval but can be stopped if one senator objects.
Citing cost concerns, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, objected.
“On this bill, many of us have been made aware of the potential cost growth and the budgetary and operational pressures that would happen at the VA,” he said. “They’re having a lot of problems, anyway.”
Enzi said he wanted more details about how many veterans would be made eligible for benefits under the legislation and how much it would cost.
According to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would cost $1.1 billion for the next 10 years. VA officials have argued the true total would be billions more. To offset costs, the bill proposed a new fee for VA home loans – a measure some lawmakers oppose.
“There’s clearly more work to do just on figuring out the spending and administration of this and the deficit impacts this bill will have,” Enzi said on the Senate floor.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., later criticized Enzi’s objection, arguing the same senator voted in favor of the GOP tax cuts estimated to increase the national deficit.
“I must say that it is a bit disheartening to see a bill that was passed unanimously by the House blocked by just a handful of senators over supposed fiscal concerns when those same senators voted to add trillions of dollars to the deficit last year to score a political win on the back of American taxpayers,” Walz said in a statement.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars also issued a scathing criticism of Enzi on Monday night, describing his objection as “obstruction,” and adding, “the VFW nor its members will forget this.”
Enzi’s opposition came after Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., pressured senators to approve the bill. Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has worked for months to address concerns from some of his fellow Republicans.
Enzi wasn’t the only senator with concerns. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, opposed the bill because he wanted to wait for the scientific study that the VA promised in 2019, according to a Military Update report.
Isakson rebuked requests Monday to wait for the study, saying, “This thing has been studied as long as it needs to be studied. We’ve got the best information we need to get.”
“I would just ask every member before they consider casting a ‘no’ vote, think about what you’re doing,” Isakson said. “I would ask each of you to search your heart… think about the veterans in your state and cast a vote for doing the right thing for the right people at the right time and not object to the motion.”
Following the Enzi’s objection, Gillibrand and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning to request the Senate try again to pass the bill.
Senate leadership could still bring the issue up under regular order in its remaining days. If the Senate fails to approve the bill before the end of the 115th Congress, advocates will have to start from the beginning again next year.
“We have just days before this Congress is finished and our Blue Water Navy veterans are waiting for us,” Gillibrand said. “Their families are waiting for us. Some of them are dying waiting for us."
Like Isakson and Gillibrand, Tester and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., also spoke Monday on the Senate floor urging unanimous consent.
“I know there are some in the administration that don’t want to see us do this, but the truth is this is a cost of war,” Tester said. “It is our obligation to meet the needs of the folks who have sacrificed for this country. It’s time to step up today, folks.”
Military.com: 5 Marines Declared Dead After Service Calls Off Search for KC-130J Crew
11 Dec 2018
Stars and Stripes | By James Bolinger and Hana Kusumoto
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — The Marine Corps has ended an extensive search for five Marines missing after their KC-130J Hercules collided midair with an F/A-18 Hornet last week off Japan’s southern coast.
"After an update from the Joint Personnel Recovery Center, and a review of all available information, I have made the determination to end the search and rescue operations for the crew of our [Hercules] … and to declare that these Marine warriors are deceased," III Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said in a statement posted Tuesday afternoon local time to the organization’s official Facebook page.
"Every possible effort was made to recover our crew, and I hope the families of these selfless Americans will find comfort in the incredible efforts made by U.S., Japanese, and Australian forces during the search," he added.
Seven Marines were involved in the training accident, which occurred just before 2 a.m. Thursdaylocal time about 200 miles south of Muroto Cape on Shikoku Island, U.S. and Japanese officials said.
Although the crews were conducting regularly scheduled training, Marine investigators have not confirmed that aerial refueling was underway during the incident, the statement said.
The Hercules’ flight data and cockpit voice recorders have not been found, making it "premature to speculate about wreckage recovery," the statement added.
Two Marines aboard the Hornet were recovered the day of the accident. The first has been released from a hospital, while the second — Capt. Jahmar Resilard, 28 — was pronounced dead after being found by a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces ship.
The statement did not identify the five Marines, but it did say their next-of-kin had been notified.
"All of us in the Sumo family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the conclusion of search-and-rescue operations," Lt. Col. Mitchell Maury, commander of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, said in the statement. "We know this difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted in the vigorous search for our Marines. Our thoughts are heavy, and our prayers are with all family and friends of all five aircrew."
Smith also expressed his condolences to the lost Marines’ families.
"Every member of the III MEF family mourns this loss and stands alongside the families of the fallen in this terrible moment," he said in the statement. "We remain, Semper Fidelis."
Both the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Japan Coast Guard announced Tuesday that they’d halted their search efforts at 6 a.m.
While the coast guard has stopped searching specifically for the crew members, it will keep an eye out during regular patrols of the area, a spokesman for 5th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday via telephone.
The coast guard sent six of its patrol boats on Thursday and continued to send vessels until Monday, although its search team had shrunk during that time, the spokesman said.
A multinational effort to find survivors was launched that included U.S., Japanese and Australian aircraft and U.S. and Japanese ships.
III MEF has declared the incident a "Class A" mishap, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported Monday. Those involve total property damage of "$2 million or more and/or aircraft destroyed" and "fatality or permanent disability."
Marine officials said Tuesday they are still investigating the incident.
MCAS Iwakuni is home to Marine Aircraft Group 12 and the Navy‘s Carrier Air Wing 5. It is one of the Pacific’s largest air stations.
Stripes: Dartmouth study finds VA hospitals outperform others in same regions
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 10, 2018
WASHINGTON – A new study by Dartmouth College that compares Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals with other hospitals in the same regions found VA facilities often outperform others when it comes to mortality rates and patient safety.
Researchers compared performance data at VA hospitals against non-VA facilities in 121 regions. In 14 out of 15 measures, the VA performed “significantly better” than other hospitals, according to results from the study.
“We found a surprisingly high, to me, number of cases where the VA was the best hospital in the region,” said Dr. William Weeks, who led the study. “Pretty rarely was it the worst hospital.”
Weeks initiated the research after reading multiple studies from recent years that had found VA hospitals performed better than other medical systems. He was skeptical of the research, he said, because it compared data on a national level, not by region.
He wanted to take the perspective of veterans, who might get a choice between their local VA hospitals and other hospitals close by.
Weeks is a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and a former VA employee. He conducted the study with Alan West, who works at the White River Junction Medical Center in Vermont.
Though he used to work for the VA, Weeks said he was critical of the agency in the past. Going into the study, he thought he might find a few well-performing VA hospitals had skewed the data in previous research.
“The theory was that a few larger hospitals could be really good performers and the rest not so good,” Weeks said. “And the weight of that might make national averages look better than what might be experienced by a typical veteran. That was the premise, but we found something that was a little bit surprising.”
The researchers compared risk of death from heart failure and pneumonia at hospitals, as well as risk of blood clots, infections and wounds after surgery, among other measures.
“The primary drivers of making a decision are, ‘I don’t want to get hurt,’ and ‘I want to live through it,’” Weeks said. “That’s why we focused on these.”
With the new study, researchers are sending a message to Congress to rethink efforts to expand veterans’ health care into the private sector.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed the VA Mission Act – major reform legislation that overhauls how the VA outsources health care to the private sector.
Under the bill, the VA and Congress are supposed to work together in coming months to create new rules dictating which veterans can use private-sector care and in what situations. The aim is to provide veterans more flexibility to see doctors outside of the VA system.
“One has to wonder whether outsourcing care is the right choice if we care about veterans’ outcomes,” Weeks said. “The VA is, for the most part, doing at least as well as the private sector in a local setting, and pretty often are the best performers in that setting.”
The Atlantic: The U.S. Is Paying More Than It Bargained for in the Yemen War
The Pentagon says that “errors in accounting” mean Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have not been properly charged for refueling.
Samuel OakfordRyan Goodman
Dec 8, 2018
President Donald Trump, who repeatedly complains that the United States is paying too much for the defense of its allies, has praised Saudi Arabia for ostensibly taking on Iran in the Yemen war. It turns out, however, that U.S. taxpayers have been footing the bill for a major part of the Saudi-led campaign, possibly to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
The revelation—detailed in a Defense Department letter obtained by The Atlantic—is likely to raise further ire among senators who have grown ever-more critical of Saudi conduct in the war, which has resulted in a growing number of civilian casualties, and U.S. support for it.
Since the start of the Saudi-led intervention, in March 2015, and up until last month, the United States provided mid-air refueling for Saudi-led coalition aircraft that then flew missions related to the Yemen campaign. Getting heavy U.S. tankers into the air and carrying out this job is enormously expensive. The recipient country is required by law to pay the costs, but that isn’t what happened here. In a mea culpa of sorts, the Pentagon’s November 27 letter states that while the Defense Department “believed” Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “had been charged for the fuel and refueling services, they in fact had not been charged adequately.” How inadequately, the Pentagon will not yet say; it is “currently calculating the correct charges,” the letter states.
On Thursday, the Pentagon confirmed the letter’s contents to The Atlantic. “Although DoD has received some reimbursement for inflight refueling assistance provided to the Saudi-led coalition (SLC), U.S. Central Command recently reviewed its records and found errors in accounting where DoD failed to charge the SLC adequately for fuel and refueling services,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told The Atlantic.
The Pentagon’s letter says that it reached these conclusions after Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, made a specific request for information.
Reed, along with seven other Democratic senators, raised the question of reimbursements in a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in March. The Pentagon’s response admitting “errors in accounting” arrived the day before a key Senate procedural vote on withdrawing U.S. support for the war effort.
“It is clear that the Department has not lived up to its obligation to keep Congress appropriately informed or its responsibility to secure timely reimbursement,” Reed told The Atlantic. “U.S.-provided aerial refueling assistance was provided to the Saudi-led coalition for more than 3.5 years, activities that likely cost tens of millions of dollars. We must ensure that U.S. taxpayers are fully reimbursed for that support.”
When asked by The Atlantic how much reimbursement DoD had received from the Saudi-led coalition, Rebarich said that “CENTCOM is still working through the calculation.” The Saudi and UAE embassies in Washington had not responded to The Atlantic’s requests for comment about any reimbursements at the time of publication.
Jeffrey Prescott, who served as senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States on the National Security Council in Barack Obama’s administration and is now a strategic consultant to the Penn Biden Center, told The Atlantic: “This is a striking revelation. President Trump has been exceedingly transactional, even seeming to threaten to cast aside NATO if our closest allies didn’t increase their contributions. That is why it is jarring to see that the Trump administration—save for congressional and public pressure—would continue to refuel Saudi and Emirati aircraft without adequate, if any, reimbursement.”
The U.S. refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft has long been a source of confusion, because the military has offered differing statements about how much fuel it has provided to its coalition partners. Hill staffers have spent years trying to pin down details of the arrangements, which are carried out via “acquisition and cross-servicing agreements,” or ACSAs, essentially bilateral treaties between the United States and a partner country that allow for the provision of military and logistical support. In the November 27 letter, the Pentagon admitted that the U.S. military refueled Saudi Arabia’s aircraft for at least the first year of the war without any ACSA with the Kingdom.
In the letter, written by Principal Deputy General Counsel William S. Castle, the Pentagon suggests that Saudi Arabia was treated as a “third party” for the first year of the war, receiving fuel via the UAE, who had a separate ACSA agreement dated to 2006. Such third-party arrangements are now explicitly prohibited under the latest defense spending bill, signed into law in mid-August.
It’s unclear if Castle’s explanation was arrived at after the discovery of the accounting error. After the first year of the Yemen war, the U.S. drafted a provisional ACSA with the Saudis, but the Pentagon says that Congress was never notified because the Kingdom, even today, hasn’t “fulfilled all of its internal procedures necessary for an Agreement to enter into force.” In short, throughout the entire duration of U.S. refueling, the Pentagon admits there was never an official servicing agreement in force with Saudi Arabia.
Evidence exists that the military was, at certain levels, tracking fuel sales. Records provided by the Defense Logistics Agency this March indicated that since the start of fiscal year 2015 (October 2014), more than 7.5 million gallons of aerial refueling had been provided to the UAE, and more than 1 million gallons to the Saudis. Those figures were for all aerial refueling, not necessarily only related to operations in Yemen. Separate DLA data showed that at least some payments had been made by the UAE, though it was unclear to what degree they were tied to operations in Yemen. The Atlantic has asked the DLA whether either set of figures were affected by accounting errors. On Friday, the DLA said it was looking into those questions.
Next year, the Government Accountability Office is expected to release a report on the use of ACSAs, which may shed more light both on the way they were used in the Yemen war and countries where they’ve been employed with little scrutiny. The Senate, meanwhile, is set to vote on whether to cut off support for the coalition next week.
Military Times: Trump changes his mind again on military spending, now wants a big boost next year
By: Leo Shane III 19 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump this week is expected to announce plans for a dramatic boost in military spending next fiscal year, reversing course on previous pledges of a trimmed down defense budget, according to multiple news sources.
The move comes after intense lobbying from congressional Republicans and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who argued Trump’s announced $700 billion military spending plan for fiscal 2020 was not only contrary to the administration’s national security build-up but potentially dangerous for the nation.
The figure represented a significant drop from the $733 billion mark that Pentagon planners had been anticipating would be unveiled in February, as part of the president’s annual budget submission to Congress. Trump had said the reduced military spending would be paired with a 5 percent cut for all other federal spending programs, to rein in the national deficit.
But Politico reported on Sunday that following a Dec. 4 meeting with Mattis, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, Trump committed to a fiscal 2020 defense budget of at least $750 billion, a nearly 5 percent increase instead of a 2 percent cut.
The news is sure to excite defense hawks in Congress at least in the short-term. Mattis and others have argued that years of military underfunding have left readiness and modernization priorities unaddressed, and that foreign adversaries — in particular, China — have seen the declines as an opportunity to flex their own military spending might.
But numerous congressional Democrats have argued that the Pentagon budget is already too bloated compared to other domestic spending priorities. They’ll take over control of the House in January, and any final budget deal will need a sign off from Democratic leadership.
That’s key, because lawmakers need to not only negotiate a new budget figure but also reach a broader government spending deal by next fall to avoid triggering automatic spending caps put in place in 2011.
Under those rules, defense spending would drop to under $600 billion for fiscal 2020, a figure that defense leaders have labeled catastrophic.
While Republican defense lawmakers have lobbied for more military spending, they have found themselves at odds with fiscal conservatives on Capitol Hill who viewed Trump’s $700 billion figure as a reasonable pull back in federal spending.
And just days after Trump floated that figure, Office of Management and Budget head Mick Mulvaney — a past critic of out-of-control military budgets — quickly ordered Defense Department planners to start revising their budget submissions to match the lower-than-expected mark.
It’s unclear whether Pentagon planners are again revising their budget documents to match the new $750 billion figure. That work is typically finished in late December or early January, in preparation for the February release of the president’s full federal budget request.
House and Senate appropriators will debate the budget numbers through the spring and summer, in hopes of reaching a final spending agreement by the start of next fiscal year on Oct. 1.
This year was the first time in a decade that the military budget was finished before that deadline. Several other agencies, including the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, still have not had their full-year funding finalized and could be shut down next week if a deal is not reached.
Reporter Joe Gould contributed to this story.
The Stripes: Army rescinds reprimand for Niger ambush that left four dead, report says
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 10, 2018
The Army has rescinded the reprimand of a Green Beret who led troops during the deadly October 2017 ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead, the New York Times reported.
Last week, Team 3212 leader Capt. Michael Perozeni, initially blamed for his role in planning the mission, was formally cleared, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, a more senior officer — Lt. Col. David Painter, then the battalion commander in charge of Alpha Company and Team 3212 — was issued a reprimand after initially escaping blame, according to the Dec. 7 report.
Col. Brad Moses, the commanding officer of 3rd Special Forces Group at the time, has so far received no punishment but is now under renewed scrutiny, the newspaper said.
U.S. Africa Command referred questions about punishments and accountability actions to U.S. Special Operations Command, which did not have an immediate response Monday.
The latest moves came in response to a concern expressed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that lower-ranking troops were shouldering too much of the blame. After news reports highlighted that junior officers were being singled out for punishment, Mattis summoned top military commanders. The meeting resulted in Perozeni’s reprimand being rescinded and his supervisors being subjected to fresh scrutiny, the Times reported.
U.S. Special Operations Command Africa boss Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks already had been reprimanded in connection with the ambush for insufficient oversight of his subordinate officers. He is the highest-ranking official punished so far for the incident.
An earlier Africa Command investigation of the October ambush determined that the members of the Green Beret and Nigerien team had little experience together as a unit.
In the aftermath of the attack, there has been significant inter-command friction between Army, SOCOM and AFRICOM as well as Pentagon leadership over who should be blamed, the Times reported.
While the Times cited complaints inside the Army about AFRICOM investigating itself, the command on Monday defended its investigation.
“It is not uncommon for a higher headquarters to serve as the investigating authority for one of its component or subordinate commands,” AFRICOM spokesman Maj. Karl Wiest said in an email. “U.S. AFRICOM had the responsibility to determine the facts and circumstances related to the attack in order to recognize the valor of our soldiers and to provide answers to the families of the fallen, Congress, and the American public.
“U.S. AFRICOM also needed this information to capture lessons that we have used to further refine our approach to countering violent extremists with our partners in the region.”
Four soldiers were killed in the ambush: Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson. Most of the 11 soldiers on the team, including the four slain troops, have been nominated for valor awards that have yet to be approved.