SFTT Military News: Week Ending May 12, 2017

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.

Military Code-Breaking Project Inadvertently Compromised
In early December 2016, an NYU student came across a server inside New York University’s famed Institute for Mathematics and Advanced Supercomputing, headed by the brilliant Chudnovsky brothers, David and Gregory. The server appeared to be an internet-connected backup drive. But instead of being filled with family photos and spreadsheets, this drive held confidential information on an advanced code-breaking machine that had never before been described in public. Dozens of documents spanning hundreds of pages detailed the project, a joint supercomputing initiative administered by NYU, the Department of Defense, and IBM. And they were available for the entire world to download.  Read more . . .

cyber warfare

Large Russian Military Exercise on Western Border with Latvia
The Russian exercise, known as Zapad, or West, occurs every four years and will take place this year in western Russia, including Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The U.S. military estimates that 70,000 to 100,000 Russian troops could take part in the exercise, the officials said, adding that the Russian military could also take the opportunity to upgrade certain equipment permanently stationed in the region. Specifically, the officials said that they expect the Russian missile defenses in Kaliningrad to be permanently upgraded with nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missile systems.  Read more . . .

Vet Groups Back Bill to Support VA Firings 
Major veterans service organizations have rallied behind proposed legislation to speed up the firing process at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but a government union charges it would be a gross violation of workers’ rights. “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.  Read more . . .

US Army Small-Arms Program Explained
U.S. Army small-arms experts recently laid out a blueprint of future small-arms goals that would equip infantry units with several new weapons, ranging from a new squad automatic rifle to a new shoulder-fired, anti-armor weapon. Four months after the Army selected a replacement for its M9 service pistol, the service has started to talk openly about plans to equip infantry squads with lighter, more effective small arms.  Read more . . .

Use of Antidepressants to Treat PTSD Linked to Dementia
Experiencing an exceptionally traumatic event can lead to mental health issues. It can result in flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety that affects the quality of life of the individual and their overall well-being. The most serious of the trauma-inducing mental disorder is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can last for months or even years after the inciting incident, interfering with day to day functioning. New research suggests that this disorder is a significant risk factor for developing dementia, a leading cause of serious illness, disability, and death.  Read more . . .

Psychedelic Drug and Therapy Show Promise in Treating PTSD
According to a story by Scientific American, researchers presented results from trial treatments that used psychotherapy and MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine otherwise known as ecstasy) as a means of combatting major side-effects of PTSD, such as frequent nightmares and heightened anxiety levels. It was found that 67% of patients who received two or three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy had completely overcome the illness roughly a year later. This number, as compared to the 23% of patients who got the same result after receiving psychotherapy and a placebo drug, could be the catalyst for an increased number of trials involving psychedelic drugs in the future.  Read more . . .

Bipartisan Support in Senate for VA Accountability Bill?
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a long-stalled bill to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire its employees, part of an accountability effort touted by President Donald Trump. The deal announced Thursday could smooth the way for final passage on an issue that had been in limbo since the 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center. As many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments as VA employees created secret waiting lists and other falsehoods to cover up delays.  Read more . . .

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

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Search for Secretary of the Army Continues

Yet another Trump nominee for Secretary of the Army, Mark E. Green, has withdrawn his name from consideration citing “false and misleading attacks against him.”

According to the Washington Post, “the opposition to Green centers on his past comments about Islam, evolution and gender issues, including suggestions that being transgender is a disease.”

Earlier this year, Vincent Viola also withdrew his name for consideration for the same position claiming that he would have difficulty separating his private interests from the responsibilities of the office.

Never one to back the wrong horse, SFTT is delighted to learn that Mr. Viola is 50% owner of Always Dreaming, the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby.

First Steps to Overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. David Shulkin continues to impress by tackling some rather entrenched “special interest” groups within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”):

- Personnel;

- Infrastructure

Earlier this week, VA Secretary Shulkin informed a Congress that he was considering closing some 1,100 underutilized VA facilities.  The Associated Press reports that:

Shulkin said the VA had identified more than 430 vacant buildings and 735 that he described as underutilized, costing the federal government $25 million a year. He said the VA would work with Congress in prioritizing buildings for closure and was considering whether to follow a process the Pentagon had used in recent decades to decide which of its underused military bases to shutter, known as Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.

“Whether BRAC is a model that we should take a look, we’re beginning that discussion with members of Congress,” Shulkin told a House appropriations subcommittee. “We want to stop supporting our use of maintenance of buildings we don’t need, and we want to reinvest that in buildings we know have capital needs.”

Last week, President Trump signed an Executive Order protecting VA whistleblowers from retaliation in a quest by the VA to shed incompetent employees.

Department of Veterans Affairs

While these measures may seem rather insignificant given the overall size and reach of the VA, they could mark an important change in the direction of the VA to help respond to the needs of Veterans.

The VA has evolved into a mammoth organization intent on serving the needs of all Veterans and their families.  Roughly 60% of the VA’s $180 billion budget (2017 budget) is allocated to mandatory benefits programs.

The VA’s discretionary budget of $78.7 billion is allocated to a variety of Veteran services,  but by far, is the the $65 billion allocated to medical care facilities.   Despite regular reports of shortcomings at VA facilities, the Rand Corporation recently (2016) reported that “the Veterans Affairs health care system generally performs better than or similar to other health care systems on providing safe and effective care to patients.”

While it appears that many Veterans – quite possibly the vast majority – receive quality health services from the VA, many Veterans complain about the timeliness and quality of service provided to them.

Like other healthcare providers in the private sector, the VA has determined what health events are covered, the type of coverage provided and where the health services are administered.

One program that has come under particular attack is the Choice Program, which gives Veterans access to medical services in the private sector if the VA can’t dispense services within 30 days or a VA facility is not located within 40 miles of the Veteran.

At his confirmation hearings, now VA Secretary David Shulkin, requested that Congress expand the coverage of the Choice program and eliminate many of its administrative constraints.  Needless to say, changes in the Choice program would certainly provide a greater number of Veterans with access to private sector care.

In cases of emergency, even minor improvements to the Choice program could be of major benefits to Veterans.

Nevertheless, these changes do not provide Veterans with access to alternative therapy programs not currently approved by the VA.  As SFTT has reported on numerous occasions, PTSD is currently treated with demonstrably ineffective “approved” treatment procedures while far better and less-intrusive programs like hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) are widely used with success throughout the world.

In effect, there are a number of activities within the VA that can best be performed by third-party services.  In fact, integrating these services with community resources may prove to be more of a long term benefit to the Veteran and his or her family.

Stand for the Troops remains hopeful that Secretary Shulkin and the dedicated employees of the VA will find the right balance in helping Veterans recover their lives.

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