August 23 Veterans News

August 23 Veterans News


Why many veterans are sticking with Donald Trump (Stars and Stripes)
Evan McAllister was 23 years old when he fought in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in 2006. He killed men and buried friends. Eight years later, he watched the same city fall to the Islamic State. To McAllister, a former Marine staff sergeant and scout sniper instructor, the war he fought was a harebrained mission planned by Republicans, rubber-stamped by Democrats and, in the end, lost to al-Qaida’s brutal successor. The foreign policy establishment of both parties got his friends killed for no reason, he said, so come Election Day, he is voting for the man he believes answers to neither Democrats nor Republicans: Donald Trump. “Most veterans . . . they see their country lost to the corrupt,” he said. “And Trump comes along all of a sudden and calls out the corrupt on both sides of the aisle.” Trump can seem an unlikely candidate to be embraced by veterans. He received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War. Last summer, he attacked Sen. John McCain, saying the Arizona Republican was “not a war hero” because he had been captured in Vietnam. More recently, Trump attacked the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, a U.S. soldier and Muslim who was killed in Iraq, after Khan’s father spoke at the Democratic National Convention with his wife standing by his side. And he has drawn almost universal condemnation from national security experts who have served under Republican and Democratic administrations and who say Trump is unfit to be commander in chief of U.S. armed forces. But among many of the people who have actually fought in this country’s wars, particularly on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, Trump offers a refreshing alternative to 15 years of seemingly endless conflict marked by uncertain goals, fleeting victories and constant personal sacrifice, according to interviews with dozens of veterans who remain unfazed by the Republican candidate’s recent behavior or falling poll numbers. On Monday, Trump vowed in a speech to end “our current strategy of nation-building and regime change,” a reference to policies pursued by the Bush and Obama administrations in the Middle East. … Two recent national polls since the Democratic convention show Trump leading Clinton among military veterans … by 14 points in a Fox News poll and 11 points in a McClatchy-Marist poll. By comparison, Clinton shows a 10-point to 15-point margin among all registered voters in both surveys. The demographics of veterans align closely with Trump’s strongest sources of support: More than 9 in 10 are men, and about 8 in 10 are white. His fans in the military community could prove critical in November in swing states with large military populations, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In these three states, veterans represented at least 8 percent of the population in 2014, according to data collected by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Trump’s foreign policy ideas can be difficult to pin down. He insists that he opposed the war in Iraq, but audio clips from interviews show that he supported the invasion. He has questioned U.S. participation in NATO but on Monday pledged to support the alliance because it had recently formed a counterterrorism division. He has vowed to work with anyone to defeat the Islamic State, stating that the United States would have to fight aggressively to win. At the same time, he has rejected the idea of nation-building, a hallmark of past strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. At a recent Trump rally in Wilmington, N.C., just 30 minutes from the back gate of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, David Buzzard, a 26-year-old former Army specialist, said the Republican real estate magnate was not his “ideal candidate.” But he is also wary of Clinton, who he says too readily backs military intervention as a solution in the Middle East and seems untrustworthy, based on her handling of emails while she was secretary of state and possible conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department. … Earlier this month, Trump made a quip about how he had “always wanted” to get a Purple Heart after an Army veteran offered him his. With two of those medals to his name, Buzzard shrugged off Trump’s comments, sayings his words had been taken out of context. … In lieu of participating in one of the Republican primary debates this year, Trump opted to raise money for veterans organizations and claimed that he had contributed $1 million of $6 million he said was raised. The majority of Trump’s personal donations to the fundraiser were not distributed until he was pressured by reporters. … Trump’s frequent calls to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs have resonated with veterans, although several said they are waiting to hear more specifics. The candidate in July released a 10-point plan to improve the department, calling for changes that include firing “corrupt and incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down,” boosting funding for job-placement services and improving mental health-care services, but details are slim. … Trump’s perceived patriotism and calls for a fiercer response to the Islamic State and other insurgent groups have drawn support from veterans frustrated with the rules of engagement under which the U.S. military operates, several veterans said. The specifics of those rules are classified but are broadly understood to outline circumstances under which U.S. troops can attack enemy fighters in an effort to prevent civilian casualties. … But Trump’s rhetoric has not won over everyone. Brandon Friedman, a former Army captain who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and later served in the Obama administration, pointed to a litany of remarks made by the Republican presidential candidate that disparaged the military and veterans. He also pointed to Trump’s lack of support for the post-9/11 GI Bill, a piece of legislation that has helped thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan receive a higher education, and Trump’s claims that the U.S. military “doesn’t win anymore.” … Some veterans have decided that neither candidate suits them. Former Marine Gunnery Sgt. Emir Hadzic said he used to back Trump, but his support waned after he heard the candidate’s comments about Mexicans and Muslims. Hadzic, who just left the Marines after spending eight deployments overseas, said he plans to write in a name or vote for a third-party candidate in November.

Clinton and Trump to participate in first-ever veterans town hall (Task & Purpose)
On Sept. 7, NBC and MSNBC will televise the first-ever veterans town hall forum. Through the non-partisan, nonprofit veterans empowerment organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off on veterans issues in New York City. “IAVA is proud to lead this historic event for our veterans community and all Americans,” founder and CEO of IAVA Paul Rieckhoff said in a press release. “On the cusp of the 15th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, New York is a fitting stage to give voice to American veterans and service members that are all too often shut out of our political debate.” As the candidates’ campaigns enter the final stretch, this event will emphasize the needs of the military community, which many organizations — like IAVA — find are not given the attention they should. “The quality of the discussion around veterans issues has now reached a long-overdue tipping point. Finally, we’ll be able to focus the candidates and the national media on issues like veterans suicide, VA reform, support for women veterans and defending the GI Bill,” Rieckhoff added. Over the course of their campaigns, Clinton and Trump have both posed plans to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, with Clinton proposing an overhaul, and Trump offering up a 10-point plan. Still, there are more issues than just VA reform to take into consideration. And as the town hall gets closer, IAVA will be releasing more specific information regarding the forum.

Trump and Clinton actually agree on one issue: Helping vets (USA Today)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are bitterly divided on nearly every issue. But there’s one hot-button topic on which they largely agree: helping veterans. Both candidates call for a “21st century” agency, promise to expand employment opportunities for jobless or under-employed veterans, and focus on the needs of female vets, such as hiring more obstetricians and gynecologists at VA hospitals. The two favor more accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been tarred by complaints about long waits for medical appointments and a scandal over falsified records. “They both want to be on the right side of this thing and it is a complex issue,” said Raymond Kelley, national legislative director for the 1.3 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “There’s been huge progress on simply getting the candidates to focus on veterans issues,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The strongest difference, veteran advocates say, is in the area of buying private-sector health care for VA patients. Trump would essentially remove the agency from a veteran’s medical decisions, allowing anyone eligible for VA care to visit any private doctor at the government’s expense so long as the physician accepts Medicare. “Donald Trump is the only one that has got real reform and the bold ideas that need to be invoked in order to change the way veterans are treated by their federal government,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and a key adviser in shaping the campaign’s VA positions. Veterans — many of whom want more choice but remain protective of the VA — have taken notice. “He right now has the most aggressive position on privatization we’ve seen in the modern era,” Rieckhoff said. Clinton would largely retain the current system, calling for “strategically” purchasing private services “when it makes sense to do so” for certain medical specialties or timely care. That view is in line with veteran organizations like the VFW. Kelley said the group favors purchasing private care for veterans to ensure timely treatment. But the VFW believes overall management of each veteran’s health care should remain with the VA. “Veterans’ health care conditions are often much more complex than a regular civilian’s and trying to coordinate all that on your own is a rough proposition,” Kelley said. VFW officials regularly consult with both campaigns and had hoped Trump had eased, at their urging, his position on widespread purchase of private-sector medical care, Kelley said. But the Trump campaign says that remains a key position. Veteran issues have achieved a prominence in this presidential race not seen in previous campaigns. Both candidates addressed the VFW’s convention in July and will speak at the American Legion convention later this month. They will appear at a first-ever forum on Sept. 7 held by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which counts 187,000 veterans as members. The VA is the second-largest federal bureaucracy — after the Pentagon — and struggles to provide prompt care to many of the 6 million veterans who are patients. A 2014 uproar over appointment records falsified to conceal long wait times forced the VA secretary to resign and led Congress to approve a $15 billion overhaul. Even so, the number of veterans waiting 30 days or longer for a doctor has actually increased since that legislation passed in 2014. It is now more than a half-million veterans. Despite their focus on VA improvements, Trump and Clinton each has run afoul of veterans during the campaign. Clinton drew criticism last October when she said the VA wait-time scandal has “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” Her campaign later clarified that she is “outraged” by what happened at the VA. Trump drew fire from several veterans groups for his critical remarks about the Democratic National Convention appearance of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a U.S. soldier who died in combat in Iraq. The VFW issued a rare rebuke of a presidential candidate saying “to ridicule a Gold Star mother is out of bounds.” Veterans groups analyzing the speeches and positions of the two candidates say both advocate many similar changes. Trump offers a three-page platform and a 10-point plan touted during speeches. Clinton has 11 pages of VA ideas, something her supporters argue shows a more thoughtful consideration of what needs to be done. … Both wrestle with the thorny issue of accountability and firing corrupt employees, particularly in the wake of the 2014 scandal. The reform law tried to streamline the firing process but ran into constitutional problems over denying due process for civil service workers. A new law aimed at correcting this is pending in Congress. … “They’re both talking about VA reform. That’s good to hear,” Rieckhoff said. “But we’ve got to hear details. Saying you’re going to clean up the VA is like saying you’re going to clean up Washington. It’s the new political pander line. … How are you actually going to do that?”

Commentary: VA undermines trust, accountability by refusing to disclose report on hospital construction failures (Aurora Sentinel)
Rep. Mike Coffman: The Veterans Administration’s  internal investigation of the Aurora VA hospital construction project is complete. But the VA continues to deny requests to release this report, which details the massive cost overruns, delays, and mismanagement that occurred. American taxpayers and veterans are entitled to see the VA’s detailed explanation of how this project’s cost spiraled out-of-control, while falling massively behind schedule. Nearly a year after it was initially promised, a memorandum summarizing the VA”s Administrative Investigation Board’s (AIB) findings was finally provided to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Jeff Miller in March, but the VA will not release to the HVAC the thousands of pages of supporting documentation. In fact, not only has the VA refused to release the supporting documents to the HVAC, it has also marked every page of the AIB summary memorandum as “information protected from disclosure” because it “…may be protected under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552a.” In other words, the VA continues to hide the full report and the summary memo from public disclosure to taxpayers and veterans alike. On March 25th, I wrote VA Secretary Robert McDonald to urge him to release the complete AIB report to all members of Congress and the American people — he refused. The VA then claimed that it released the “thousands of pages of documentation from the AIB” to “all four VA Congressional Oversight Committees — untrue. So I wrote Secretary McDonald again on July 7th asking him to reconsider his position, provide a complete legal explanation as to why this information is allegedly protected under the Privacy Act, and to release the summary along with the full report and all of the supporting documentation by August 31, 2016. To date, I have not received a response from the Secretary. The VA’s own conclusions in the summary memo essentially place all the blame on individuals who have conveniently now retired. This does not surprise me as the VA has consistently refused to hold anyone accountable for the many failures on this project, but I suspect the American people and their Congressional Representatives will draw very different conclusions if they can ever see the currently unavailable supporting documentation. To make matters worse, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson is on the record stating that presenting a summarized memo to the Oversight Committee was a generous act. When asked about releasing just the summary of the AIB to the public, he responded: “I’m not going to do that. I disclosed it to the Oversight Committee because I felt like it was the right thing to do. And we normally don’t do that either.” The right thing to do, Mr. Gibson, is to release the report to the American people and to Congress. Over a billion dollars in waste and mismanagement at the Aurora VA hospital and no one has been fired. It appears to be business as usual at the VA. Veterans and taxpayers deserve to know what went wrong. The failures are the Aurora VA hospital were not simply caused by an incompetent few, but were a direct consequence of the VA’s deeply flawed practices and culture. Fortunately, I successfully pushed the idea of prohibiting the VA from ever managing another major construction project again. Now that this has become law, the VA is out of the hospital construction business and that is a victory for both our veterans and for our taxpayers. If the VA continues to refuse to release the AIB and its supporting documents as I have requested, I will ask the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to vote on issuing a subpoena for the full AIB report when Congress reconvenes in September.

Drones, not dirt: Making farm careers cool for vets (MilitaryTimes)
Federal officials have spent the last few years developing new resources to help put veterans into agriculture jobs. Now, they’re working to make those jobs look cool. Officials from the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday unveiled new plans to better explain and market a host of industry jobs to recently separated service members, calling it a growth area that fits nicely with the skills and training of those veterans.  “People need to know this is about more than just handling livestock,” said Lanon Baccam, deputy undersecretary for agricultural services at USDA. “This is about engineering, drone technology, data analysis and more. Breaking down the walls is key.” Earlier this year, department officials partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on promoting agriculture as a potential career path for troops after they leave the military. Now, the officials are shifting that work to highlight many of the industry’s cutting-edge agriculture jobs, through a new web portal and jobs site. The goal is both to help veterans find work and to help industry officials find workers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who spoke to corporate officials and veterans advocates during an unveiling event Tuesday, said that current training programs and job applicants are expected to fill only about half of the industry’s open jobs in the next decade. Meanwhile, department officials have raised concerns about the long-term viability of domestic food production in the country and the significant drop in America’s rural population in recent decades. The average age of farmers in America is 58, according to USDA data. There are twice as many farmers in America older than 65 than farmers under the age of 35. Vilsack said those challenges point toward encouraging veterans to take an opportunity to serve their country again, in an agriculture career. “These folks understand duty, responsibility and teamwork,” he said. “Anyone who hires them benefits from the training they received.” Mike Michaud , assistant secretary of labor for veterans employment and training, said his agency has worked to help connect veterans to those openings. But chamber officials acknowledged that most veterans’ perception of agriculture jobs involves shovels and dirt. Industry leaders want to redefine the potential opportunities as careers with flexibility and plenty of cool gadgets. That includes jobs like drone operators, who help collect data on crop growth and spray pesticides for farms. The new effort will also include collection more stories of veterans in agriculture, to better relate how their skills and experiences translate into the civilian work.