Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, February 21, 2020, which is Card Reading Day, National Caregivers Day, National Woman’s Heart Day, and Single Tasking Day.
Today in History:
- February 21, 1965: In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.
- 1885: The Washington Monument, built in honor of America’s revolutionary hero and first president, is dedicated in Washington, D.C.
- 1972: In an amazing turn of events, President Richard Nixon takes a dramatic first step toward normalizing relations with the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) by traveling to Beijing for a week of talks. Nixon’s historic visit began the slow process of the re-establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and communist China.
- 1916: At 7:12 a.m. on the morning of February 21, 1916, a shot from a German Krupp 38-centimeter long-barreled gun—one of over 1,200 such weapons set to bombard French forces along a 20-kilometer front stretching across the Meuse River—strikes a cathedral in Verdun, France, beginning the Battle of Verdun, which would stretch on for 10 months and become the longest conflict of World War I.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
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Military Times: GAO: VA must improve plans for providing long-term care to aging veterans
Patricia Kime | 15 hours ago
Veterans are increasingly relying on the Department of Veterans Affairs for long-term care as they age, and with the cost expected to double in the next 20 years, the department must be prepared, the Government Accountability Office has warned.
In 2018, more than 500,000 veterans received long-term care from the VA — either in a nursing home run by the VA, the states or private companies, or through elder care and home support programs. By 2037, the number is expected to increase with rising number of aging veterans, especially those in the highest service-connected disability groups
As a result, VA projects its long-term care costs will increase from $6.9 billion to $14.3 billion by 2037, and it has been planning for the expense, according to GAO. But the government watchdog agency still has concerns that the department won’t be able to meet demand.
In a report released Wednesday, GAO analysts said VA is likely to face difficulties hiring enough workers, providing services to veterans in rural areas and adequately supporting those with specialized needs — problems it already struggles to address.
For example, GAO said, VA has challenges hiring employees such as nursing assistants and health technicians for its community living centers, 80 percent of which have vacancies. The short-staffing often leads to veterans being placed on wait lists for these VA-run nursing homes, according to GAO.
VA also has difficulties providing long-term care in places where veterans live, particularly rural areas where demand is high and capacity is low. While the problem is not unique to VA — many health care companies struggle to staff and maintain remote facilities, GAO noted — the department also must anticipate the residential preferences of a fairly mobile population.
For example, over the past two decades, veterans have moved from the Northeast to the South, leaving VA with too many beds in the Northeast and not enough nursing-home spots in the South.
Finally, GAO is concerned about VA’s ability to provide care for veterans needing specialized services for dementia, behavioral problems and ventilator support. In some communities, these services are available at VA-supported nursing homes while in others, they are only available at private nursing homes in the community.
VA needs to do a better job envisioning the level of service veterans will need, GAO analysts said. It should establish measurable goals such as targets for the number of available ventilators or caregivers needed to help veterans with dementia.
It also must develop measurable goals for meeting demand despite workforce challenges and regardless of a veteran’s location, the report recommended.
“VA’s Geriatrics and Extended Care office … has not established measurable goals for these efforts. Without measurable goals, VA is limited in its ability to address the challenges it faces meeting veterans’ long-term needs,” GAO analysts wrote.
Veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for long-term care if they need assistance for a service-connected disability or have a VA disability rating of 70 percent or higher.
VA manages three “institutional,” or nursing home, programs and 11 non-institutional programs, such as adult day care, medical foster homes an home respite care.
In the department’s response to GAO, VA Chief of Staff Pamela Powers said VA concurred with the recommendations and noted that VA was already was tackling the issues. According to Powers, the Geriatrics and Extended Care office met in January with several Veterans Health Administration offices to forge a “strategic approach to meet the long-term care challenges facing our aging and/or disabled veterans population.”
McClatchy: Do military pilots have a higher risk for cancer? Lawmakers want to find out
BY TARA COPP | FEBRUARY 20, 2020 01:31 PM
The number of former military pilots who have been diagnosed with cancer has become personal for Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a Navy veteran who had three deployments on aircraft carriers.
Luria served 20 years as a nuclear-trained Navy surface warfare officer and knows pilots who are facing cancer.
“I had heard and been aware of similar stories of pilots,” Luria said in a phone interview with McClatchy. “And personally know of some who have contracted cancer.”
Luria and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who currently serves in the Air National Guard, recently introduced the “Military Pilot Cancer Incidence Study Act” to require the military to study whether pilots have a higher risk for cancer and if cockpit radiation or other toxic exposure is to blame.
Over the last several months, McClatchy has reported on the rising rates of cancer treatments at Department of Veterans Affairs health care facilities, found cancer clusters among the military’s top aviators and uncovered that in at least one aircraft, the E2 Hawkeye, the military knew there were hazardous levels of cockpit radiation.
Dozens of former military pilots or their surviving spouses have come forward to draw attention to how many former aviators have died from or are fighting cancer, and the difficulty they had getting the VA to either correctly diagnose or cover the costs of their medical treatments.
Navy Capt. Jim Galanie was a career Navy aviator and test pilot with more than 4,300 hours flying the A-7 Corsair attack plane and F/A-18 fighter jet. He was physically fit and did not show outward symptoms.
“He’s climbing to the top of a Mayan ruin in Mexico in December 2017, and then February 2018 he’s diagnosed with stage four cancer,” said his widow, Sheila Galanie.
Jim Galanie had gone each year to the VA clinic in Charlotte Hall, Maryland, for a regular checkup, including the PSA blood test that detects prostate cancer, she said. Based on his medical records, his PSA numbers had jumped in previous years above the threshold that should have triggered follow-up tests, Galanie said.
“The data was there. His PSA data was right there,” she said. “His symptoms got missed for five years.”
Prostate cancer is a common cancer in men and treatable if detected early. An investigation by McClatchy published in October found that across all military services prostate cancer treatment rates at VA health care facilities rose 23 percent from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2018.
By the time Jim Galanie’s prostate cancer was diagnosed it had spread to other areas and by May 2018 doctors were advising hospice care. He died in May 2019 at age 59.
Last year the Air Force announced it would study cancers in all of its pilots dating back to 1970 after a number of former fighter pilots brought attention to how many of their group were diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses. The Navy said current evidence did not show its aviators were at a higher risk of cancer and that it would see what the Air Force review found.
Galanie said she hopes the Navy will reconsider.
“I would hope that the Navy would choose to take responsibility for its own service members rather than relying on the Air Force, as that would delay treatment, possibly much needed treatment, for people who served,” she said.
Luria said she would like the study to look at cancers among not only active duty pilots but also former pilots. It would require pilot data to be collected by age, gender, type of aircraft flown, and military service.
“I think it bears studying,” Luria said. “Is there an increased prevalence for these types of cancers in people who have flown military aircraft, if so is there a correlation between the type of aircraft and type of equipment and radiation they may be exposed to? The data tells a lot. “
The bill would also require medical screening for pilots as young as 30 for some cancers.
Military Times: US, Taliban agree to reduction in violence, paving way for peace agreement
Diana Stancy Correll | 52 minutes ago
The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed to reduce violence across Afghanistan — paving the way for both parties to shake hands on a peace agreement later this month.
“The United States and the Taliban have been engaged in extensive talks to facilitate a political settlement to end the war in Afghanistan, reduce United States and Allied Forces presence, and ensure that no terrorist group ever uses Afghan soil to threaten the United States or our allies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Friday morning.
Following discussions between U.S. and Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, Pompeo said there has been a mutual understanding for a “significant and nationwide” reduction in violence throughout Afghanistan.
“Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo said the agreement is expected to be inked on Feb. 29. Then, intra-Afghan discussions can start to “deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan,” he said.
“Challenges remain, but the progress made in Doha provides hope and represents a real opportunity,” Pompeo said. “The United States calls on all Afghans to seize this moment.”
Pompeo’s announcement comes after the Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani — who is wanted by the FBI — penned an op-ed for the New York Times signaling a peace agreement was imminent and would result in the removal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The U.S. could then support step postwar development and reconstruction after troops exit, he said.
“My fellow Afghans will soon celebrate this historic agreement,” Haqqani said. “Once it is entirely fulfilled, Afghans will see the departure of all foreign troops.”
Pompeo did not specify in his statement how many U.S. troops would be cut, if the reduction in violence proves successful and a peace agreement advances. However, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has suggested 8,600 U.S. troops would stay in Afghanistan to conduct counterterrorism missions, in addition to train, advise, and assist missions.
Approximately 13,000 U.S. troops currently remain in Afghanistan.
Military Times: GOP lawmakers fret over Afghanistan drawdown plans
Joe Gould | 16 hours ago
WASHINGTON ― With talk of a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan on the horizon, some Republican lawmakers are cautioning the Trump administration against pulling out too many troops, too quickly.
The comments came as a recently announced truce agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban envisions the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces over 18 months, on a path to the total withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. The initial plan calls for an end to attacks for seven days and then the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal before all-Afghan peace talks would begin.
Administration officials have expressed optimism about the plan, but on the heels of meeting with Afghan President Ashaf Ghani at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, the Republicans raised concerns about how the process will work.
To Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a skeptic of past Trump administration drawdown plans, the devil will be in the details.
“Are they real conditions, are you going to enforce them, or is it just window covering for a withdrawal,” he said. “I’ll say our military and the Afghan military has brought the Taliban to the table, but will they fundamentally change their ways? Can you really have Afghans in a peaceful society? I’m skeptical.”
U.S. officials have not publicly spelled out their timetable for an initial drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the expectation is that a reduction from the current total of about 12,000 to approximately 8,600 will begin after the signing of a U.S.-Taliban deal. The initial reduction is likely to stretch out over a period of weeks or months, and a conditions-based withdrawal to zero troops could follow.
"If all sides hold up, meet their obligations under that reduction of violence, then we’ll start talking about the next part and whether to move forward," Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters in Munich.
As U.S. officials were mum about those conditions, some Republicans cautioned against accepting a bad deal.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an ally of Trump, reckoned the presence of 8,600 U.S. troops will give Ghani leverage to negotiate the peaceful reintegration of Taliban, while a hasty withdrawal of all U.S. troops would be an immense blunder.
“The worst thing that can happen for the Trump administration is to push a reconciliation progress of dialogue and outcome, beyond what the market will bear,” Graham said. “If people think we’re going to leave Afghanistan no matter what, then the Northern Alliance regenerates and the country goes into open civil war. [The Islamic State’s Afghan offshoot] ISIS-K and al-Qaida are the biggest beneficiaries of that, and it will be Iraq on steroids.”
Critics of President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq say the and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State group showed there are practical and political repercussions for how America gets out of a war, just as there are for how it gets into a war.
“A dose of skepticism is healthy and necessary. Nobody wants to be perceived on the wrong side of history on this thing, if it falls apart,” Tom Spoehr, director of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, said of reaction to the Taliban talks.
On the sidelines at Munich, Ghani told lawmakers he was comfortable with a drawdown to 8,600 U.S. troops. That presence, Ghani said, is a matter of homeland security for the United States because Afghanistan’s reversion to Taliban rule would make it a launchpad for terrorist attacks on the U.S.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a senior Senate Armed Services Committee member who met with Ghani, said the administration should be, “driving home that the Afghan people overwhelmingly want us to stay.”
“Until [the Taliban] have some kind of change of heart or they’re marginalized, we’re still there, and I’m comfortable with the United States saying the people of Afghanistan can depend on us for as long as they need us,” Wicker said, adding: “As a federal legislator, I think that our withdrawal should be conditions based.”
Asked whether the Trump administration believes that, Wicker paused for a full six seconds, then said, “Well, I’ll just let the administration speak for itself.”
Stars & Stripes: 75th Iwo Jima commemoration could be Camp Pendleton’s last
By STARS AND STRIPES | Published: February 20, 2020
A ceremony in California marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima is expected to be the last formal West Coast gathering of veterans of the 36-day fight to take the volcanic Pacific island from the Japanese.
For three days last week, the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee and Marine Corps Installations-West hosted 28 Marines and sailors who were among the tens of thousands of Americans who fought to secure the rock as part of the campaign that was critical to Allied victory in the Pacific theater.
Some of the “old breed” donned Marine or Navy dress uniforms or simply displayed their medals during the annual reunion, which the service said has been hosted by Camp Pendleton for 30 years. But with the number of still-living veterans dwindling, this year’s event is expected to be its final iteration, the Marine Corps said in a statement this week.
The battle, where the iconic photo of the Marine flag-raising on Mount Suribachi was taken, is deeply ingrained in the service’s identity. Many Marines regard with awe those who fought against dug-in and fortified Japanese forces.
Nearly 7,000 of the over 70,000 Marines who fought to take the island were killed, making it one of the war’s bloodiest battles.
After coming ashore on Iwo Jima’s black sand beaches, 22 Marines earned the country’s highest valor award during the battle — more than one-quarter of the Corps’ 82 Medal of Honor recipients from the entire war.