Editor’s Note: According to House Majority Leader Hoyer, S. 504 – LEGION Act (Sen. Sinema – Judiciary) is scheduled to be voted on by the House today.
Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, July 23, 2019 which is Gorgeous Grandma Day, National Vanilla Ice Cream Day, Hot Enough For Ya Day, and Yada, Yada, Yada Day.
This Day in Legion History:
- July 23, 1962: Pitching phenomenon Bob Feller of Iowa – known as the “heater from Van Meter” – is the first alumnus of American Legion Baseball inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. A teen prodigy, he was a farm boy who could throw a curve ball at the age of 8 and was playing American Legion Baseball at 10. At 17, he would skip the minor leagues altogether, and sign with the Cleveland Indians in the majors. He took four years away from baseball after enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II – the first professional athlete to do so – and quickly returned to form after his tour of duty. He would ultimately pitch 3,827 innings over 18 seasons and hold the record for most strikeouts in a game, 18, at the time of his retirement. He threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters. Some of the game’s greatest hitters described him at the best pitcher in baseball history. Later in life, Feller was a frequent speaker at American Legion Baseball World Series events and in 2009, at the age of 91, he threw out the first pitch in the annual championship tournament in Fargo, N.D.
This Day in History:
- 1952: In Egypt, the Society of Free Officers seizes control of the government in a military coup d’etat staged by Colonel Gamal Abdal Nasser’s Free Officers. King Farouk, whose rule had been criticized for its corruption and failures in the first Arab-Israeli war, was forced to abdicate and relinquish power to General Muhammad Naguib, the figurehead leader of the coup.
- On this day in 1885, just after completing his memoirs, Civil War hero and former president Ulysses S. Grant dies of throat cancer. The son of a tanner, Grant showed little enthusiasm for joining his father’s business, so the elder Grant enrolled his son at West Point in 1839. Though Grant later admitted in his memoirs that he had no interest in the military apart from honing his equestrian skills, he graduated in 1843 and went on to serve first in the Mexican-American War, which he opposed on moral grounds, and then in California and Oregon, tours of duty that forced him to leave behind his beloved wife and children. The loneliness and sheer boredom of duty in the West drove Grant to binge drinking. By 1854, Grant’s alcohol consumption so alarmed his superiors that he was asked to resign from the Army. He did, and returned to Ohio to try his hand at farming and land speculation. Although he kicked the alcohol habit, he failed miserably at both vocations and was forced to take a job as a clerk in his father’s tanning business.
- On this day in 1982, Vic Morrow and two child actors, Renee Shinn Chen and Myca Dinh Le, are killed in an accident involving a helicopter during filming on the California set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Morrow, age 53, and the children, ages six and seven, were shooting a Vietnam War battle scene in which they were supposed to be running from a pursuing helicopter. Special-effects explosions on the set caused the pilot of the low-flying craft to lose control and crash into the three victims. The accident took place on the film’s last scheduled day of shooting.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Stripes: Lawsuit filed against VA secretary over delaying benefits for Blue Water Navy vets
- Military Times: Trump says he has a plan to win the Afghanistan war in 10 days
- AP: South Korea fires warning shots at Russia warplanes
- FoxNews: Iran says it dismantled CIA spy ring, arrests 17, sentences some to death: report
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Stripes: Lawsuit filed against VA secretary over delaying benefits for Blue Water Navy vets
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 22, 2019
WASHINGTON — A lawsuit was filed Monday against Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie over his decision to delay claims processing for tens of thousands of “Blue Water” Navy veterans until next year.
Military Veterans Advocacy and the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing Wilkie doesn’t have the authority to delay work on the claims until Jan. 1, 2020 — a decision he announced earlier this month.
Blue Water Navy veterans served aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships in the territorial seas of Vietnam and fought for years to prove they were exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange. Because of a federal court case and a new law passed by Congress, they became eligible in June for VA disability compensation.
Advocates stressed in their complaint that the veterans can’t afford to wait for benefits. The lawsuits names one veteran, Johnnie Harper of Louisiana, who “is not expected to survive” until 2020.
“These veterans are dying at a high rate every single day,” the complaint reads. “[They] deserve the peace of mind and sense of closure that accompanies a granted claim for earned benefits.”
‘Minimize the impact’
Thinking it marked the end of a long-fought battle, lawmakers and veterans groups celebrated last month when President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, which grants government benefits to thousands of Vietnam War veterans who were previously ineligible.
Blue Water Navy veterans cinched another victory when the Department of Justice decided not to appeal a federal court ruling that said they should be extended disability compensation and other benefits from the VA.
The two things coalesced in June, 50 years after the Vietnam War and at least a decade since the first Blue Water Navy veterans began pushing the VA and Congress for recognition.
Now, they’ll have to wait awhile longer.
Wilkie announced July 5 that the VA would begin making decisions on the claims Jan. 1, 2020, not immediately. He cited a provision in the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 that says the secretary can enforce a stay on a claim until the law goes into effect Jan. 1.
In an official statement, Wilkie said the VA needed time to implement the law without causing adverse effects on other veterans awaiting claims decisions.
“We are working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water veteran community and minimize the impact on all veterans filing for disability compensation,” Wilkie said in the statement.
The VA said 420,000 to 560,000 Vietnam War veterans could be considered Blue Water Navy vets, but advocates argue those estimates are inflated. John Wells, a former Navy commander who leads Military Veterans Advocacy, believes the total is closer to 90,000 veterans.
Wells argued that Wilkie’s decision to implement a blanket stay on all claims goes against the intent of Congress. Moreover, because a federal court decided in June that Blue Water Navy veterans were eligible for benefits, the VA should process those claims now, he said.
“We are asking the court to intercede and allow these claims to proceed in accordance with federal law,” Wells said. “It is unconscionable to create more delays and stumbling blocks for veterans whose health and longevity are at stake.”
‘Disheartening and unnecessary’
Wells isn’t the only person fighting the delay.
Sens. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., sent a letter to Wilkie, decrying his decision as “disheartening and unnecessary.” Eleven other senators signed another letter that requested the VA make decisions on claims for Blue Water Navy veterans “with as much urgency as possible.”
“Issuing a stay on the resolution of all benefits decisions will only needlessly delay the delivery of critical health care and contribute to an influx of claims that could be more appropriately managed if processors could begin their work now,” the senators wrote.
The letter was signed by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Bob Casey Jr., D-Penn.; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
The group of senators also voiced concerns about whether the VA is communicating with Blue Water Navy veterans about the change in law or providing instructions to claim benefits.
John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, wrote to Wilkie soon after the VA announced the delay. He called Wilkie’s decision “frustrating” and a step backward in the progress made for Blue Water Navy veterans this year.
“Today, the average age of a Vietnam veteran is 73 years old. Time is of the essence as a grant of benefits can mean obtaining vital, lifesaving health care,” Rowan wrote. “The saying, ‘Delay, delay and hope they die’ is the unfortunate reality for veterans and families that have been and continue to suffer from the lethal effects of Agent Orange.”
Disabled American Veterans sent a message to its members last week, saying the organization was working with lawmakers and other veterans groups to lift Wilkie’s stay on the claims. DAV encouraged Blue Water Navy veterans to file claims now, so they could receive benefits as soon as possible.
“VA and Congress must find a way to move forward and begin granting Blue Water Navy veterans claims before it’s too late,” the message reads.
Military Times: Trump says he has a plan to win the Afghanistan war in 10 days
By: Meghann Myers 16 hours ago
As U.S. officials continue talks with the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal and withdraw American troops from the country, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that he’s seen a plan that would end the Afghanistan war in a week and a half.
American service members have been acting like policemen, he added, and the administration is leaning on Pakistan to help it leave behind a more stable Afghanistan.
“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I would win that war in a week,” he said before heading into a closed-door meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. “I just don’t want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you?”
Pakistan has been helping with the peace talks, according to a Tuesday release from the White House, “and we are going to ask them to do more.”
“I think Pakistan’s going to help us out, to extricate ourselves,” Trump said.
Trump’s statement that his plan would annihilate one-third of the Afghan population raised concerns in national security circles, as the estimated death toll implied a threat of nuclear force.
“I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth,” he said. “It would be over literally in 10 days. I don’t want to go that route.”
The president expressed frustration with the length of the conflict, and with the work coalition forces have been doing to help stabilize the country.
‘We’ve been there for 19 years, in Afghanistan ― it’s ridiculous," he said, using an oft-repeating, though inaccurate, timeline.
U.S. troops first hit the ground in Afghanistan in October 2001. What started as a special operations mission to compel Taliban surrender turned into almost two decades of trying to squash regional terrorist threats while training national military and police forces and working toward the “hearts and minds” goals of counterinsurgency doctrine.
“They’re building gas stations. They’re rebuilding schools. The United States ― we shouldn’t be doing that. That’s for them to do,” Trump said of the Afghans.
Trump and Khan were expected to cover the Taliban peace talks and other national security issues in their meeting Tuesday.
Officials from the U.S. and the Taliban most recently met in Qatar earlier this month.
“I think we’ll have some good answers on Afghanistan very quickly,” Trump said.
AP: South Korea fires warning shots at Russia warplanes
By: The Associated Press 8 hours ago
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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean jets fired warning shots after a Russian military plane violated South Korea’s airspace on Tuesday, Seoul officials said, in the first such incident between the countries.
Three Russian military planes initially entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone off its east coast before one of them entered the country’s territorial sky, the South’s Defense Ministry said.
South Korean fighter jets then scrambled to the area to fire warning shots, a ministry official said, requesting anonymity due to department rules.
The Russian plane left the area but it returned and violated the South Korean airspace again later Tuesday, the ministry official said. He said the South Korean fighter jets fired warning shots again. Each time, the Russian plane didn’t return fire, the official said.
It was the first time a Russian military plane violated South Korean airspace, according to South Korean officials.
The airspace the Russian plane violated was above a group of South Korean-held islets roughly halfway between South Korea and Japan that has been a source of territorial disputes between them. Russia isn’t a party in those disputes.
The three Russian planes had entered the South Korean air defense identification zone with two Chinese military planes. But it wasn’t immediately known whether the two countries deliberately did so, according to the South Korean official.
Before their joint flights with the Russian planes, the Chinese planes entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone off its southwest coast earlier Tuesday, according to the South Korean official. Chinese planes have occasionally entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone in recent years.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it plans to summon Russian and Chinese Embassy officials later Tuesday to register formal protests.
By Edmund DeMarche | Fox News
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joins ‘Fox & Friends’ to discuss his meetings with Mexico and El Salvador on reducing illegal immigration and weighs in on global tensions with Iran.
President Trump on Monday dismissed as "more lies and propaganda" claims out of Iran alleging authorities there had disrupted a CIA spy ring and sentenced several of the plotters to death — a development that threatened to further inflame an already precarious staredown between the Islamic Republic and the United States.
Trump’s tweet, which also mentioned an Iranian drone shot down by the U.S. Navy last week after the unmanned vehicle wandered too close to the USS Boxer, echoed comments made earlier in the morning by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and cast Tehran as flailing amid tough U.S. sanctions that threatened to strangle its economy.
"The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth," Trump wrote. "Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do. Their Economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!"
The roundup of the alleged espionage cell ensnared 17 people during the past several months and was completed by the end of March, an Iranian official said at a news conference in Tehran. The official was identified only as the director of the counterespionage department of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, which is highly unusual in Iran, as officials usually identify themselves at press conferences.
"The identified spies were employed in sensitive and vital private sector centers in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber areas…where they collected classified information," said a ministry statement read on state television.
Pompeo, while not commenting directly on the spy report, advised caution and noted Iran has a history of lying.
"I can’t add much to it specifically," Pompeo told "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning. "I would urge everyone who’s reading that story that the Iranian regime has a long history of lying. They lied about where they shot down the American UAV, they now lied about where they took down this tanker. It’s part of the nature of the Ayatollah to lie to the world. I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion of Iranian actions taken. "
Pictures of some of the alleged spies were reportedly shown on state TV, which also broadcast a documentary purporting to show a CIA officer recruiting an Iranian in the United Arab Emirates.
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Tehran also announced in June the takedown of a CIA spy ring, but it was not immediately clear if those alleged spies were the same as those referenced Monday.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency was the first organization to report on the matter, according to Reuters. The identities of those arrested were not immediately known.
The U.S. has increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf region in recent weeks after it alleged provocative moves by Tehran that included attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the downing of a U.S. drone and the seizure of a British tanker.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.