June 18 Veterans News Update

June 18 Veterans News Update

Veterans news updateMilitary’s use of SSNs a vulnerability for veterans (KUOW-Seattle)
A massive data breach at the federal Office of Personnel Management has exposed the Social Security numbers and personnel records of nearly every federal worker. The implications for federal employees, military service members and the intelligence community could be extraordinary.   But at a very basic level U.S. service members have been at high risk for identity theft for decades. In the military your nine-digit service ID number is used for everything, whether you’re checking out gym equipment or picking up your laundry. Since the late 1960s that number has been a service member’s Social Security number. And while the military is trying to change that, it’s a long process.  For many service members their Social Security number is still printed everywhere.  “Your dog tags, your medical records, your service records, any advancement exams that you take — I have thousands of pieces of paper with my Social Security number on it,” said Lindsay Church. Church was a linguist in the Navy until three years ago. Now she’s a graduate student at the University of Washington. Shortly after she left the Navy, somebody broke into her car in front of her mother’s house. “I thought the only thing that was stolen was my medication. Then I realized that my medical records were missing. They started opening new credit cards and opening new accounts and the police couldn’t help me. There was nothing they could do except give me the number of the credit bureau,” Church said. According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the most common consumer complaint from military personnel and veterans. The Department of Defense wouldn’t do an interview for this story, but in a statement detailed the efforts it is making to protect service members’ identities.  The statement says the government began removing printed Social Security numbers from ID cards in 2008 and plans to finish that process this month. But it will be the year 2022 before the numbers are fully removed from the cards’ bar codes, QR codes and magnetic strips. The Department of Defense says it’s issuing new military ID cards as the old ones expire.  The cards will display a unique  10-digit DOD number instead of a Social Security number.

Report: VA misappropriated $43 million in funds (The Daily Caller)
A new report released by the VA Office of Inspector General Wednesday details a misappropriation of $43.1 million by Veterans Affairs officials. The $43.1 million was originally appropriated to the VA Supply Fund in 2011 as part of the Medical Support and Compliance Fund. The Chief Business Office (CBO) than through a series of transactions “parked” the funds at the U.S Government Printing Office (GPO). The OIG report states that, “‘Parking’ refers to the transfer of funds to a revolving fund through an intra-agency agreement in an attempt to keep the funds available for new work after the period of availability for the funds expires.” The vast majority of the funds though, $35.2 million, remains unused in the GPO as of July 2014. The original $43.1 million was appropriated to the VA Supply Fund by the CBO, was for the use of “tailored handbooks.” These handbooks were supposed to provide veterans with information about VA benefits, though they were never made. In fact, “The authorizations did not specify the quantity of handbooks to be produced or the dates for delivery.” At the same time, “the tailored handbook account VA maintained at GPO appeared to be fully funded. There was a surplus of funds to cover the costs of the handbooks on veterans’ health care benefits. The handbook account in October 2011 had a balance of over $20.1 million. During the period from November 2011 through July 2014, the account had a net increase of approximately $6.7 million resulting in a balance of approximately $26.8 million.” Of the $43.1 million, $5.6 million was billed to the Supply Fund as service fees. No services were rendered by the Supply Fund. The remaining funds were,”were deposited in an unrelated account designated for enrollment communications at GPO.” The CBO officials at the VA were able to use the funds “parked” at the GPO “at their discretion with no designated purpose.”

$70 million to be invested in veterans’ mental health (Military Times)
A new program funded by Wounded Warrior Project aspires to improve mental health services and care for veterans in the private sector. The charity is using $70 million to fund an effort that will create outpatient programs at four of the nation’s top academic medical facilities, aimed at helping sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. WWP Chief Program Officer Jeremy Chwat said the initiative, known as the Warrior Care Network, will create a series of programs that will integrate behavioral health care with rehabilitative medicine, wellness, nutrition, mindfulness and family support for post-9/11 veterans and their families. “Tapping into private health care [in conjunction with what is offered at Veterans Affairs] is something we think can benefit not only the warriors in our program but those who are accessing mental health treatment at VA and other programs,” Chwat said. Participants are Emory University’s Veterans Program, Atlanta; the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Home Base Program, Boston; Operation Mend at the University of California-Los Angeles; and Rush University Medical Center’s Road Home Program in Chicago. The Warrior Care Network is one of 21 programs established or managed by Wounded Warrior Project to help troops from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and others who served after Sept. 11, 2001.

Senators warn VA to keep hands off Filipino vets fund (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Key senators on Wednesday warned the Department of Veterans Affairs against diverting money from a Filipino veterans fund to rescue a hospital project in Colorado or any other purpose. The senators — including Harry Reid and Dean Heller of Nevada — said the VA did not provide a suitable explanation for its request to reprogram $150 million from various accounts including $35 million from the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation fund. Congress ended up passing legislation Friday granting VA the money it needed to keep alive a troubled hospital project in Aurora, Colo., without tapping the Filipino veterans account. In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Heller and Reid warned the agency think twice before proposing another transfer from the account. “We remain concerned as to why the FVEC was proposed in the first place and also that VA may consider reprogramming funds from the FVEC in the future,” the senators said in the letter sent Tuesday. They said the VA proposal was “an affront” to the veterans. The compensation fund was established in 2009 for one-time payments to soldiers, guerrillas and scouts who fought alongside Americans in World War II. Distributions from the fund hit a snag however. Close to 43,000 claims were filed by a September 2010 deadline but only 18,929 were found eligible, according to VA figures. About $56 million remains unspent while lawmakers from Hawaii, Nevada and California — states with substantial numbers of Filipino-Americans — try to reopen the payment program.

Report: VA Maine mishandled referrals for veterans’ care (Maine Sun Journal)
Maine’s Veterans Affairs health care system mishandled referrals for mental health services and failed to properly document all requests for that care, leaving some patients without needed services, according to a federal investigation released Wednesday. The VA Maine Healthcare System’s management of mental health services “made it difficult to track whether patients’ requests for services were met” and “some patients had unmet needs,” the Office of Inspector General’s report states. The system includes the Togus VA hospital in Augusta, as well as outpatient clinics throughout the state. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who was briefed Wednesday morning by the VA officials who conducted the investigation, said she was “deeply disappointed” with some of the findings. “Timely mental health care is critical for veterans and their families and they should not be made to wait for it — or even worse, get lost in the system,” she said in a statement. “But this report shows that is exactly what is happening. The inspector general found that because Togus isn’t following the rules, we don’t know how long the wait is for some patients.” The report also made clear “staffing levels are inadequate, morale is low and the systems that are in place for tracking veterans with mental health needs weren’t always followed,” Pingree said.

Honoring World War II Merchant Marine veterans (Roll Call)
Commentary: “A small group of heroes is walking the halls of Congress this week, proudly sharing memories of the work they and friends long gone did more than 70 years ago to help the Allied forces win World War II. These men from the American Merchant Marine Veterans served our nation courageously, but they have never been properly recognized. As we prepare for events marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, we should remember — and honor — merchant mariners who delivered vital supplies to U.S. forces and our allies. Their efforts were so important that they were regarded as “the fourth arm of our defense,” and military and political leaders including Eisenhower, Churchill, MacArthur and Nimitz praised their service and credited the Merchant Marine for its important role in the Allied victory. They risked their lives, facing attacks by U-boats and enemy planes and traveling through mined waters. As many as 9,000 mariners were killed, and thousands more maimed and injured, during the war. In fact, the casualty rate among the Merchant Marine was higher than for any branch of our armed forces in World War II. Despite their dedicated wartime service to our nation, Merchant Marine veterans were not eligible for the benefits others received under the GI bill. This means they never received the college tuition subsidies, the home-loan guarantees or other provisions of the GI Bill that helped millions of veterans transition seamlessly into civilian life and lifted many of their families into the middle class.”

Washington governor asks committee to prepare for worst-case cuts at JBLM (The Olympian)
Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday charged a new committee to prepare programs to help troops and civilian workers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for what many consider to be inevitable cuts at Pierce County’s largest employer. “I think about the individuals that have stood post in Anbar province (in Iraq) and in the heights of Afghanistan. These are people who are going to need us in coming months by the thousands,” Inslee said. He’s anticipating an announcement from the Army next week that will describe how many positions it plans to shed from JBLM. The base’s share could be as many as 11,000 positions in a wave of force reductions that will unfold unless Congress repeals the forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Inslee announced his plans for the military downsizing committee earlier this month. It brings together several state agency directors who oversee education, job-training and economic development departments. On Wednesday, he asked the committee to write initial response plans within the next two weeks. The committee builds on previous programs Inslee has coordinated since the Army’s post-Iraq War force reductions gained momentum two years ago, such as a Military Transition Council that focuses on finding civilian careers for veterans. JBLM already has lost about 7,000 positions for active-duty soldiers since its peak strength of 34,000 active-duty soldiers in 2011.

General Taguba wants Congressional medals for Filipino WWII vets (NBC News)
The retired U.S Army major general who played a role in exposing war crimes and torture in Iraq, is now focused on one last battle for justice: getting Congressional recognition for Filipino veterans of WWII. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, author of the report that first exposed abuses in Abu Ghraib prison, is now forging a bi-partisan effort to honor the Filipino American veterans with the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal. Even with the contentious politics in Washington, Taguba feels optimistic. “This is the first time this bill was introduced and we believe wide bipartisan support will come,” Taguba said in an interview with NBC News. “Barring any objections from select members of Senate and House, we hope this will pass later this year or early next year.” The Filipino Veterans of WWII have become a symbol of injustice for Filipinos in the U.S. and the Philippines. For the war effort, more than 200,000 were called into action and promised full benefits, including citizenship, but that promise was broken in 1946. It’s taken years of protests and community lobbying by the vets to force Congress to make the vets whole—and then only in slow increments of health and pay benefits. The most recent victory was in 2009, where one time payments of $15,000 were issued to vets living in the U.S., and $9,000 to those vets in the Philippines. But there are still issues in getting the vets all of what they’re due.

Vets crowdfund their journeys to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria (Breitbart News)
The Islamic State’s conquests in Iraq and Syria– from the largest metropolitan areas to the most unassuming villages of both nations– have raised alarm around the world. And as the Kurdish forces on the ground lament a lack of resources necessary to finish the job, their call has summoned a broad coalition of Western military veterans using the internet to fund trips to the front lines of the war on ISIS. Just as thousands of citizens of Western countries have abandoned their homelands to join the Islamic State, so too are Americans, Canadians, British, and other Western fighters who believe ISIS presents an existential threat to Judeo-Christian values sacrificing all to join Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria and take the fight to the Sunni terrorist group. Many of those with the requisite military expertise to serve Kurdish military groups as valuable soldiers simply do not have the money to set off on the journey they have vowed to make, and have found an innovative new way to generate the income necessary to fight ISIS: online crowdfunding. Sites like Go Fund Me and IndieGoGo have become hubs for soldiers seeking a one-way ticket to Iraq or Syria, who use their pages to explain why they are prepared for such a fight and how a donor’s money would help combat Islamist terrorism. This influx of Western fighters is not new to the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq, or the YPG/YPJ in Syria. In fact, so many Western recruits have attempted to join the Peshmerga that, in February, a Peshmerga spokesman began to discourage non-professional fighters from trying to join the war, as their need for training and weapons had become a burden on the army. In contrast, the Kurdish YPG and YPJ, or People’s Defense Units, have not discouraged recruits. In fact, the high level of interest instead led them to form an official group for foreigners invested in the fight on ISIS, the Lions of Rojava. The group makes it easier for foreigners to meet upon arriving in Rojava, a region of Syria also known as Western Kurdistan, and uses a Facebook group to recruit interested parties. “Join YPG / YPJ The Lions Of Rojava Unit and send isis terrorists to Hell and save Humanity,” their Facebook group description reads.

Ernie Pyle, still telling the stories of soldiers, 70 years on (The Los Angeles Times)
“Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers’ packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades…. Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand.” The words appeared in American newspapers on June 17, 1944, contained in the last of three reports war correspondent Ernie Pyle filed depicting the aftermath of D-day. In his signature style, detailed and deceptively simple, Pyle described the “human litter” that extended in “a thin little line, like a high-water mark” along the beaches of Normandy after the June 6 landing. Writing paper and air mail envelopes constituted the most common debris, after cigarettes. “The boys had intended to do a lot of writing in France. Letters that would have filled those blank, abandoned pages.” You see these words, and many others by Pyle, as you read, watch and sometimes weep while touring the “Road to Berlin” galleries at the National WWII Museum here in New Orleans. The museum displays all manner of artifacts — maps and telegrams, rifles and dog tags — and the hardware of war, including a B-29 bomber and P-51 Mustang fighter. There are photos, films and documentaries; with a click you can play videos of veterans recounting the war. There are Pyle artifacts too, copies of two of his books, “Brave Men” and “Here Is Your War,” and a Zippo lighter Pyle gave to a friend who helped him answer fan mail. “For Reed Switzer in gratefulness for everything you’ve done for me,” he wrote. “Ernie Pyle. Sept. 7, 1944. London.” He’s not the focus of the exhibits, but his presence, heartfelt and melancholy, seems everywhere here.