SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending June 14, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Taliban

Russia Claims to Have Killed ISIS Leader
Russia’s military said on Friday that it was looking into whether one of its airstrikes in the Syrian desert had killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State.In a statement, the Defense Ministry said that the Russian Air Force struck a meeting of Islamic State leaders on May 28 outside Raqqa, Syria, the group’s de facto capital, possibly killing Mr. Baghdadi. The statement offered no explanation for the two-week delay in publicizing the airstrike. And it was also not clear whether the Russian military had known in advance that Mr. Baghdadi was at the gathering, or had learned of this possibility only after the strike was carried out.  Read more . . .

Trump Restrictions on Cuban Trade Said to Hurt Cybersecurity
The prospect of tightened sanctions has many Cubans on edge, concerned about the impact on the economy and overall relations between the countries. For Lt. Col. Rodriguez, it could mean curtailing what the Cubans tout as successful sharing of intelligence, made possible as a result of the diplomatic relations established by President Obama. “The progress that we’ve made could be set back,” Rodriguez said.  Read more . . .

Help on the Way for Military Caregivers?
Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and actor Ryan Phillippe visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify in the first major Senate hearing on veteran caregiver issues in several years. “I’ve heard directly from the military caregivers who are in need,” Phillippe told The Hill. “And those experiences stick with you. They stay with your heart. And I think bringing attention to these issues is huge.” The foundation commissioned a report from the Rand Corporation, also released on Wednesday, which provides a blueprint for necessary research and support for caregivers. “Rand pointed out the number of areas where there were gaps in services, and the current legislation fills those gaps,” Dole told The Hill. “Now we need the research to get ready for the future.”   Read more . . .

How Russia Targets the U.S. Military
In recent years, intelligence experts say, Russia has dramatically increased its “active measures” — a form of political warfare that includes disinformation, propaganda and compromising leaders with bribes and blackmail — against the United States. Thus far, congressional committees, law enforcement investigations and press scrutiny have focused on Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s successful efforts to disrupt the American political process. But a review of the available evidence and the accounts of Kremlin watchers make clear that the Russian government is using the same playbook against other pillars of American society, foremost among them the military. Experts warn that effort, which has received far less attention, has the potential to hobble the ability of the armed forces to clearly assess Putin’s intentions and effectively counter future Russian aggression.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Congress Passes Veterans Affairs Accountability Act
Congress approved long-sought legislation Tuesday to make firing employees easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs, part of an effort urged by President Trump to fix a struggling agency serving millions of veterans. The bill will make it easier for VA employees, including executives, to be fired by lowering the standard of evidence required to “remove, demote or suspend” someone for poor performance or misconduct. It also gives whistleblowers more protections, including preventing the VA from removing an employee with an open whistleblower case.  The House cleared the bill, 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to workers. The Senate passed the bipartisan legislation by voice vote last week. It will go to Mr. Trump later this week for his signature.  Read more . . .

Alcohol and Substance Abuse May Worsen PTSD Symptoms
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to a disorder wherein a person may fail to recover after experiencing a terrifying event. It can trigger anxiety and dreadful memories of the incident. Veterans or people from the armed forces may be at a higher risk of developing PTSD as they are often exposed to life-threatening experiences and tough combat. Military services and many other local organisations offer help to veterans to overcome this disorder. However, sometimes they may turn to alcohol and substance abuse to numb distress and ease the anxiety. But a new study, published in the journal of Traumatic Stress, indicates that such risky behaviour may worsen the symptoms of PTSD.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops

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Secretary Shulkin Announces Electronic Health Records for VA

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In a rather unusual setting:  the White House press room – Department of Veterans Affairs’ Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, announced that the VA “will be overhauling its electronic health records, adopting a commercial product used by the Pentagon that he hopes will improve care for veterans and reduce wait times for medical appointments.”

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

While many have been pressing for a complete overhaul of the VA’s inefficient medical record system, Dr. Shulkin has taken on the challenging task of dispensing with the VA’s current VistA system in exchange for the Department of Defense MHS Genesis system.

Without going into too many details, Secretary Shulkin showed courage by selecting the MHS Genesis system without competitive bidding, “citing a ‘public interest’ exception. He noted that when the Pentagon did competitive bidding on its system, it took 26 months.”

While I fully agree with his rationale for accelerating the implementation process, I am quite certain that others will question the bidding process.  After-all, Secretary Shulkin claims that it would be “unrealistic” to assume that the VA’s new electronic health record would cost less than $4 billion.

Congressional approval is required for this supplemental appropriation, but this overhaul of the VA electronic health records was a key recommendation of the June 30, 2016 Commission on Care Report.    I have no doubt that Congress will pass the required appropriation.

Electronic Health Records for Veterans and the VA

On the plus side, a “cloud-based” commercial solution is far preferable to internally-developed and internally-maintained VA legacy systems.  Outdated, clunky and inefficient legacy systems at banks and insurance companies have proved to be rather ineffective at keeping pace with technology.  Systems at the VA are probably not different.

There is no question, that the VA will be able to operate far more efficiently with state-of-the-art electronic health records.  Whether Veterans will benefit from this improved information technology remains a matter of conjecture.

Dr. Shulkin claims that the transition to the MHS Genesis system will take “about 3 to 6 months at the latest.”  Recalling the delays in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act online marketplace, I suspect that this is a very ambitious target.  I hope to be proven wrong.

Furthermore, I recall that it took members of the medical profession about two years to fully implement the transition to electronic health records to receive reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.

While the technology may be fully deployed and implemented within six months, I suspect that it is highly unlikely that 300,000 plus employees at the VA will easily transition to the new electronic health records.

Realistically, I suspect that it will be about 24 months before the first major efficiencies make themselves manifest at the VA.

Privacy and Electronic Health Records

While it makes sense to use the common elements of the Department of Defense (“DoD”) database to populate and communicate with a similar system at the VA, access to individual records creates privacy issues.

Veterans tell SFTT that they are reluctant to share health information with the VA because of privacy concerns.  Linking the DoD and VA databases seems – on the surface – to raise additional “privacy” issues.

While the VA can use any number of filters and access restriction to protect the confidentiality of electronic health records, it is evident that a human interface will at some point be required to get actionable medical information to “the right” caregiver.

Getting a person on the phone – let alone “the right person” – has always been a problem at the VA.  In fact, SFTT reported late last year that 1/3 of the calls to the VA Crisis Center go unattended.

Is it enough to assume that things will be different this time around?

Conclusion

While the move to electronic health records is yet another great decision by Dr. Shulkin, it remains to be seen whether he has sufficient tools at his disposal to mobilize the staff of VA to reach out to Veterans and help close the divide.

On behalf of our brave Veterans, SFTT certainly hopes so.

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SFTT News: Highlight for Week Ending Jun 7, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Syrian Military Threatens Coalition Forces on Border
Forces loyal to the Syrian government have threatened to retaliate with force after the U.S. military struck their positions on multiple occasions. A military alliance fighting the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and other insurgents on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Iran and Russia issued a statement Wednesday containing five points of criticism after U.S. warplanes carried out strikes against their fighters on Tuesday. The U.S. argued that Iran-backed militants had approached too closely a Special Forces base in the Syrian region of al-Tanf near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, prompting the U.S. to launch its second such attack in three weeks against pro-Assad forces.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Treating PTSD at the Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly expanded its treatment programs for mental health problems overall, and for post-traumatic stress disorder in particular, said Dr. Harold Kudler, acting assistant deputy under secretary for Patient Care Services at the VA. In fiscal 2016, the VA provided mental health treatment to 1.6 million veterans, up from 900,000 in 2006, Kudler said. Of the overall figure, 583,000 “received state-of-the-art treatment for PTSD,” including 178,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.   Read more . . .

European Military Command Center Moves Forward
The European Union approved a new military command center for foreign training missions on Thursday after Britain dropped its opposition, the latest step in EU efforts to integrate its militaries and defense industries. A day after the European Commission offered 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion) a year in support of Franco-German plans for greater EU defense cooperation, all 28 EU governments agreed for the command center in Brussels to run training missions in Somalia, the Central African Republic and Mali. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement the decision was “a very important operational decision to strengthen European defense”.   Read more . . .

Senate Passes VA Reform Bill
The Senate approved bipartisan legislation by voice vote Tuesday to reform civil service protections at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation, dubbed the “Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act” would make it easier to fire federal employees, including executives. The legislation follows numerous scandals at the VA in recent years, most notably the manipulation of waiting lists for veterans, with patients dying while waiting for treatment.  Read more . . .

Secretary Shulkin Announces Shift in Electronic Records
In a move that’s been long-discussed and much anticipated, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced his intention to move VA to a commercial, off-the-shelf electronic health record and turn the page on a new chapter toward achieving interoperability with the Defense Department. VA will abandon its own, existing Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) and adopt MHS Genesis, the same EHR system that DoD is deploying. All patient data will reside in one common Cerner Millennium system.  Read more . . .

Crisis in PTSD Drug Development Leads to Other Treatment Alternatives
Only two medications – sertraline (Zoloft, Pfizer) and paroxetine (multiple brands) – are currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of PTSD. Although these drugs and a few others have modest effect sizes, they are not as effective as trauma-focused psychotherapies, as reported in a recent review, which, Dr Davis said, factored largely into the pivotal clinical guidelines shift. Although the results reflect the potentially robust efficacy of psychotherapy, they also underscore the need for better medications, a sentiment that Dr Davis and her colleagues on the working group noted in a consensus statement.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops

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SFTT News: Week Ending Jun 3, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

North Korea Threatens Nuclear Option Unless U.S. Steps Down
North Korea told the U.S. Thursday to withdraw its military assets from the region, warning via state-run media that a military showdown would end in nuclear destruction. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency released an article titled “U.S. Urged Not to Adventure Military Actions,” in which an official tasked with inter-Korean relations criticized the U.S.’s military moves in the region. Japan, an ally of Washington and rival of Pyongyang, began major naval and air force exercises Thursday with the U.S.’s Carl Vinson and Ronald Reagan aircraft carriers, Reuters reported.  Read more  . . .

Marijuana PTSD

Department of Veterans Affairs Will Look at Medicinal Marijuana
Department of Veterans Affairs officials will review research that medical marijuana could provide health benefits to veterans undergoing treatment at the VA, Secretary David Shulkin told reporters Wednesday at the White House. “There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we’re interested in looking at that,” Shulkin said of medical marijuana.  Read more . . .

Veterans Treatment Court Success Reported in Michigan
Of the 446 veterans that entered one of Michigan’s VTC from October 2014 to September 2016, 66 percent successfully completed it, according to the state’s Problem Solving Courts 2016 annual report. The program is also credited with reducing unemployment among VTC grads by two-thirds. Since it was founded in 2013, the 51st District Court’s VTC has graduated 34 participants. District Judge Richard Kuhn said those who complete the course “demonstrate strength, dedication and perseverance.” Currently, 18 others are working their way through the program.  Read more . . .

Computer Based Program to Treat PTSD?
On Wednesday, Creighton, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a local nonprofit called At Ease USA announced a $1.2 million grant to pay for a new clinical trial of the cutting-edge PTSD treatment. The trial will also include PTSD-affected domestic violence victims as well as children suffering from post-traumatic stress.  If it goes as hoped, the study will replicate two initial trials — one performed in Omaha, one in Israel — that showed that the computer-based treatment significantly reduces symptoms and even normalizes the brain activity of Iraq and Afghan War veterans suffering from PTSD.  Read more . . .

Six PTSD Resources You Should Know About
Veterans have a variety of resources to turn to when they have concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Symptoms of the disorder don’t necessarily indicate PTSD and some reactions to stress and trauma are normal conditions. The best way to find out if you suffer from PTSD is through a medical professional, who can then advise treatment options. Doctors and online resources may identify the problem and help with the necessary treatment available.  Read more . . .

Veterans Training Service Dogs – Not Available from the VA
Dr. David Shulkin, appointed to his role in February announced he will launch a new initiative this summer ‘Getting to Zero’ to help end Veteran suicides as his top clinical priority.  Here in the Bay area, one local non-profit is trying to bring hope to veterans by ending the war on suicides and fighting PTSD by teaching veterans how to train their own service dogs.  Founder of K9 Partners for Patriots found a unique way to help veterans control their road to recovery by teaching them how to train a canine through commands and how to deal with interactions in public.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops

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Veterans with PTSD Knew that VA Opioid Prescriptions Were Wrong

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After many lives of many brave Veterans with PTSD have been lost, the State of Ohio has finally taken action against pharmaceutical drug companies for hyping opioids.

Opioids

According to the New York Times reporter,  

The State of Ohio filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic, accusing several drug companies of conducting marketing campaigns that misled doctors and patients about the danger of addiction and overdose.

Defendants in the case include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan and others.

Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, a time-release opioid, released a statement saying, “We share the attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions,” and calling the company “an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology.”

As most Veterans treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) are aware, opioids were the prescription of choice for Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Despite overwhelming evidence available to the VA and the Department of Defense (the DOD) that this was probably not a wise course of action, the VA persisted in treating the symptoms of PTSD with dangerous prescription drugs.

It is only now with opioid and drug addiction ravishing communities across the United States that some local and State governments are beginning to take action.  In the interim, thousands of Veterans with PTSD have suffered through over-medication with opioids by doctors at the VA.

More to the point, the VA continues to insist on dated and ineffective treatment programs for Veterans with PTSD and TBI.   Under the inept counsel of Dr. David Cifu, these same treatment therapies continue at the VA today.

It is difficult to predict when this tragic saga will end, but clearly there are no indications that the VA plans to make any substantial changes to current programs.  As such our brave Veterans will continue to receive the same flawed therapy and, most likely, a healthy supply of prescription drugs to mask the symptoms.

Where are our leaders in Congress and leaders within the VA to put an end to this tragedy?  Cynical though I am, I have a difficult time believing that Big Pharma political campaign donations would be the reason.

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Saluting our Veterans on Memorial Day

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Memorial Day

As we gather together to celebrate Memorial Day, I am struck by the outpouring of love and heartfelt admiration for the men and women in uniform – past and present – who have served our country so valiantly.

Often overlooked as we celebrate Memorial Day are the spouses, family and loved ones who continue to support Veterans and active duty personnel with debilitating injuries.

Stand for The Troops would like to acknowledge these courageous men and women who labor on so courageously in providing daily care to loved ones who are no longer quite the same person they were before combat.

On this Memorial Day, SFTT would like to list several organizations that continue to provide great service to our Veterans, particularly those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) continues to block the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD.  Nevertheless, Dr. Paul Harch and many others continue to provide FREE or greatly discounted treatment to Veterans suffering from PTSD.

More to the point, Dr. Harch and many other evangelists go out of their way to promote the benefits of using HBOT to treat PTSD.    On this Memorial Day weekend, SFTT remains hopeful that Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of the VA, will begin providing Veterans with better treatment alternatives, such as HBOT.

It is time to rid the VA of institutional dogma based on self-serving agendas and seek real solutions that help Veterans with PTSD and their loved ones.

Archi’s Acres, Escondido California

Karen and Colin Archipley have dedicated their lives to helping Veterans recover their lives by providing training in “sustainable organic agriculture.”  At Archi’s Acres, students receive a six-week course in hydroponics, drip/micro irrigation, environmental control, soil biology, composting and much more.

We tip our hat to both Karen and Colin for having the imagination and perseverance to help provide Veterans with an opportunity to acquire new skills on their road to recovering their lives.

Wives of PTSD Vets and Military

I often come across some inspirational stories of families coping the ravages of PTSD on a Facebook Page entitled “Wives of PTSD Vets and Military.”  While depression and a sense of helplessness affects many Veterans (active duty personnel), their caregivers often bear the brunt of their frustration.

There are many similar Facebook Page support groups such as “PTSD:  The Wives Side,” but all provide some useful advice in helping loved ones cope under circumstances that are most difficult to comprehend.

This Memorial Day my thoughts and prayers go out to caregivers that do much of the heavy day-to-day lifting,

This is not an easy journey.  Frankly, we must move beyond coping and do everything possible within our power to help our brave Veterans recover his or her life.  Only by doing so, will we be able to recover our own.

On this Memorial Day, I wish all resilient warriors the strength and courage to continue to support our Veterans.

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SFTT News Highlights: Week Ending May 26, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Nato Logo

At NATO Speech President Trump Scolds Leaders
At a NATO summit in Brussels, President Trump marked the unveiling of memorials of the Berlin Wall and the Sept. 11 attacks with a speech that, among other things, told gathered NATO leaders their levels of defense funding are “not fair” to U.S. taxpayers. Trump also omitted any clear statement of support for Article 5, the NATO mutual-defense pledge — something other leaders had been hoping to hear. The Associated Press described Thursday’s speech as an “unprecedented one-two punch” that “further rattled” an already anxious Europe. And at home, one Democratic leader called the remarks “condescending” and an “embarrassment,” while Republican Sen. Rand Paul said he applauded Trump’s stance.  Read more . . .

U.S. and Russia Military Increase Communication Over Syria
The United States and Russia have increased communication to avoid warplane accidents in the skies over Syria as Islamic State militants lose territory and the air space becomes more crowded, a top U.S. Air Force official said on Wednesday. In 2015, the Russian and U.S. militaries agreed to create a communication link and outline steps their pilots could take to avoid an inadvertent clash over Syria. Senior U.S. military officials have stressed that there was a need to enhance communications as the fight against Islamic State intensified.  Read more . . .

Elderly Veterans Face Cuts In New VA Budget
Veterans Affairs officials on Wednesday defended plans to strip tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits from elderly veterans as responsible reforms to the department’s growing budget, but opponents promised to fight the idea. Included in President Donald Trump’s $186.5 billion VA budget for fiscal 2018 — a nearly 6 percent boost in discretionary spending from this year — are plans to dramatically cut the department’s Individual Unemployability program.  Read more . . .

AK-12 Kalashnikov

New Kalashnikov Assault Rifle Proposed by Russians
Brace yourselves: It looks like Kalashnikov Concern, the weapons manufacturer behind the iconic AK-47, will end up arming the modern Russian warfighter for future conflicts with a brand new addition to its AK family of assault rifles by the end of 2017, Army Recognition reports.  Read more . . .

VA Accountability and Reform Bills Moves Forward in Senate
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that reforming veterans’ care would be a top priority for lawmakers when they return to Capitol Hill the first week of June. Lawmakers will take up legislation to increase accountability within the Department of Veterans Affairs and protect its whistleblowers.”We know many challenges remain in ensuring that veterans have access to the care they need and deserve at the VA, but this legislation will further improve our ability to meet our commitment to them,” McConnell said.  Read more . .

Six PTSD Resources You Should Know About
Veterans have a variety of resources to turn to when they have concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Symptoms of the disorder don’t necessarily indicate PTSD and some reactions to stress and trauma are normal conditions. Mental and physical distress, difficulty sleeping, and disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams are among the signs. The best way to find out if you suffer from PTSD is through a medical professional, who can then advise treatment options. Doctors and online resources may identify the problem and help with the necessary treatment available.  Read more . . .

PTSD Medications May Increase Dementia Risk
Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder may be at increased risk of dementia, particularly if they are taking psychotropic medications, a new study finds.Researchers from the University of Iowa came to their conclusions by analyzing the data of more than 3 million veterans.They found that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were at much higher risk of developing dementia than those without the condition, but that the risk varied depending on the medications they were using.Study co-author Dr. Thad Abrams, of the Department of Epidemiology at Iowa, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops

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Military Procurement Process: Changes on the Way?

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There are few things more complicated than the Military Procurement Process.  No doubt, rigorous controls are required for certain mission critical functions, but it seems that bureaucratic roadblocks exists at almost every phase of the military procurement process.

military procurement process

On the eve of the release of a new framework to improve the military procurement process, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, vented his frustration with the following explanation:

The Army decided in 2005 it needed a replacement for its M9 Beretta pistol and then spent 10 years writing and rewriting requirements.

The final request to gunmakers was 350 pages with 23 attachments and added $15 million to the cost. After a decade, the Army still had not decided what caliber the gun would be or what ammunition it would use.

Meanwhile, U.S. small arms companies make more handguns in a month than the Army will buy in 25 years, the Armed Services panel found.

“So a commercially available revolver or handgun would be just fine. Maybe it’s OK to get our handguns in a commercially available way in the future,” Thornberry said.

An advisory panel – Section 309 – has recommended the following framework needed for acquisition reform in the military procurement process:

1.  Adapt at the Speed of a Changing World
The United States is operating in a global environment that is more fluid, more interconnected, and faster evolving than at any point in history. To adapt to this reality, the acquisition process must be agile enough to respond to rapidly evolving threats, and fast enough to develop and deliver new capabilities within the arc of emerging threats.

2.  Leverage the Dynamic Defense Marketplace
The defense industrial base has changed, and to maintain technological advantage, DoD increasingly must leverage the commercial marketplace. To be successful in this broader marketplace requires a fundamental change in the DoD–commercial relationship. DoD must become an attractive customer with which commercial firms want to do business. This need requires DoD to be a more sophisticated buyer that is responsive to market dynamics, company interests, and the greater economic landscape.

3.  Allocate Resources Effectively
The U.S. military faces multiple threats posed by increasingly capable adversaries and uncertain domains of warfare. It also contends with constrained defense budgets. To more effectively and efficiently allocate resources, DoD must better align and coordinate how it budgets, sets requirements, and acquires what it needs, to include not only major weapon systems, but also the services and low‐dollar items that make up more than half of DoD contract spending.

4.  Simplify Regulations
Some of the regulations and statutes governing defense acquisition are outdated or no longer applicable and should be amended or repealed to make the system more effective and efficient, and expand the number of companies willing to do business with DoD.

5.  Enable the Workforce
The current acquisition laws and regulations are overly complex, difficult to understand and implement, and contain requirements that result in people making suboptimal decisions and being risk‐averse. DoD needs an acquisition system that is simple, understandable, and executable by people operating in an environment that empowers and incentivizes them to make decisions that lead to positive outcomes.

Frankly, the same “reform” recommendations could be issued for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  There is no need to enlist the services of an “independent” panel to make such self-evident recommendations.  In fact, all 5 recommendations could be summed up rather easily:  “Use common sense!”

Clearly, complex weapon systems require a rigorous system of controls and due diligence.  In most other cases, procurement through an “unregulated” market is probably a far more efficient way to source products at a reasonable cost.

For instance, the Beretta M9 which has been standard issue for the last 35 years has now been replaced by the P320 of German origin.  With only 20% of US Army personnel issued “combat arms,” presumably far less require sidearms.  Does it really take this long to “upgrade” our firearm capability when drones seem the weapon of choice.

Wouldn’t it be far more efficient for the US Army (and presumably other arms of the military) to provide a “recommended” handgun to those servicemembers who need them but provide others with the option to bring their own weapon as long as it is duly registered and approved by unit officials?

Clearly, lethal weapons require additional controls, but there are many budget items that receive the same level of controls and regulations that are probably not required.

Bureaucratic procurement controls tends to lead to fraud and abuse as we have seen in the recent scandal regarding parts for Humvees.

The only way to improve the procurement process is to identify those areas which require disciplined oversight, but endeavor to open the playing field to more reputable suppliers.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending May 19, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Secretary of Defense Weighs In on War with North Korea
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale” and Washington was working internationally to find a diplomatic solution. North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally, calling them legitimate self-defense.  Read more . . .

Military Handgun M-9 handguns

Could the US Military Purchase Handguns Online?
The Defense Department may start doing a whole lot more online shopping in 2018, if Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry has his way. The Texas chairman of the Armed Services Committee unveiled new legislation Thursday that aims to cut costly bureaucratic red tape at the Pentagon by allowing the military to buy everything from pens to treadmills from business-to-business sites such as Staples and Amazon. That would free the federal government’s biggest bureaucracy from using its current “expensive” and “onerous” contracting and scheduling process to buy its commercial goods, according to Thornberry.  Read more . . .

Large Number of Troops Separated for Misconduct had PTSD
Nearly two-thirds of the 91,764 U.S. troops who were separated from the military for misconduct in a recent four-year period had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury or another condition that can lead to misconduct, according to a report released Tuesday, raising questions about the Pentagon’s treatment of combat veterans. The Government Accountability Office found that the Defense Department needs to take action to make sure that commanders appropriately consider medical conditions when weighing what to do with service members facing misconduct allegations. Some 57,141 troops were separated from the service despite a potentially relevant diagnosis between 2011 and 2015, and 13,283 of them received other-than-honorable discharges that could prevent them from receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the report said.  Read more . . .

Improper Payments at VA Continue to Grow
The Department of Veterans Affairs cost taxpayers $5.5 billion dollars in improper payments last year, according to a new report by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General published Monday. An improper payment is any payment that “should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount under statutory, contractual, administrative, or other legally applicable requirements,” according to the report. The findings, published on May 15, reported an increase in improper payments from $5 billion in 2015 to $5.5 billion in 2016. It also found that two VA programs failed to keep their rate of mistaken payments below 10%, and six of its programs failed to meet reduction targets set last year.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops

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Meet David Cox: Dr. “No” of VA Reform

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Meet J. David Cox, who many consider “Dr. No” of badly needed reforms within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA’).

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

J. David Cox is President of the American Federation of Government Employees and is the person most likely to block any meaningful reform within the VA.  SFTT has had an eye on Mr. Cox who in the run-up to last year’s Presidential election, threatened the previous secretary of the VA with physical violence:

Cox was “prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,” he said. “He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you,”

The new VA Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, is rightly receiving favorable media coverage and support from both parties in Congress on his forceful new leadership.  In fact, the New York Times recently referred to Dr. Shulkin as a “Hands On, Risk-Taking ‘Standout.'”

The New York Times reports the following example of Dr. Shulkin’s responsiveness (and common sense):

After he first took the job, he grew concerned that the agency was not doing enough to prevent suicide after a news report showed high rates among young combat veterans. Suicide prevention leaders told him that they would put together a summit meeting to respond, adding that it would take 10 months.

Dr. Shulkin told them to get it done in one month. When his staff members pushed back, he pulled out a calculator and began quietly tapping, then showed them that during the delay, nearly 6,000 veterans would kill themselves. They got it done in a month.

“For me it was a very important day,” he said, remembering the meeting. “It taught our people you can act with urgency, and you can resist the temptation to say we work in a system that you can’t get to move faster. I think they learned that you can.”

Indeed, SFTT has greatly admired the decisiveness with which Dr. Shulkin has attacked two chronic problems with the VA:  A bloated infrastructure and the lack of authority to manage the VA’s large workforce.

While Congressional Republicans and Democrats have largely agreed on an “accountability” bill to support the firing of VA employees, J. David Cox argues that:

“Trampling on the rights of honest, hard-working public-sector employees is not the solution to holding bad employees accountable for their actions,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox said. He said the bill would set up different standards for VA employees and other federal workers.

In fact, just recently it was reported that “a federal appellate court overturned the firing of Sharon Helman, who presided over a Phoenix VA Health Care System that left veterans waiting for weeks or even months for care while phony records were kept to show the agency was meeting its wait-time goals.”

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

While I hope that Dr. Shulkin has the fortitude to implement the bold changes he has outlined, the entrenched bureaucracy represented by David Cox and others, such as David Cifu, will continue to undermine his efforts.

The VA has simply grown too large to manage effectively.  Dr. Shulkin is right in arguing that the lives and well-being of Veterans are far more important than defending the rights of a few “bad apples” within the VA.  David Cox should embrace the vision of Dr. Shulkin and act in a manner which reflects well on the work ethic of the vast majority of VA employees.

Veterans, Veteran organizations and our elected officials should provide Dr. Shulkin with a clear mandate to bring about the much needed reform within the VA. Our Veterans, their family and friends and an appreciate public deserve no less.

J. David Cox would do well to join forces with Dr. Shulkin in this effort rather than taunt him.

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