SFTT News: Week Ending Jan 6, 2017

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Found below are a few 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.

SFTT wishes all readers, Veterans and men and women in uniform a healthy and prosperous 2017.

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

President Barack Obama Calls for Seamless Transition to Trump
President Barack Obama called for a smooth handover of control of the U.S. military to incoming commander in chief Donald Trump, as the outgoing president met Wednesday with military leaders for the last time. “We’ve got to make sure that during this transition period that there is a seamless passing of the baton, that there’s continuity,” Obama said. He said it was critical to ensure that “we are doing everything we can to make sure that the next president will benefit from the same kinds of outstanding advice and service that these people around the table have provided me.”  Read more . . .

President Barack Obama

Turks Turn to Russia for Military Help in Syria
Two defense officials say that Russia has conducted “several” airstrikes in support of the Turkish military fighting in Al Bab, Syria. And, while the Turks have accepted airpower help from the Russians, they continue to decline military help from the U.S. The Turks are fighting to expel ISIS from al Bab and they are in the midst of an extremely tough fight and they are taking casualties. The U.S. has repeatedly offered help over the past few weeks, both officials said, but the Turks continue to turn it down.  Read more . . .

Election Hacking Takes Center Stage on Capitol Hill
While the U.S. intelligence machine is certain that Russia interfered with the recent presidential election, lawmakers are just beginning to wrestle with how to deter and retaliate against future cyberattacks.  Leaders from several intelligences agencies appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, testifying that Russia used cyberattacks and spread disinformation and fake news to impact the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November. They also said Russia poses a significant threat to American democracy in the future.  Read more . . .

Russia Beefs Up Military Ties with the Philippines
Russia is eyeing naval exercises with the Philippines and deployed two navy ships for a goodwill visit to Manila on Tuesday as Moscow moves to expand defense ties with a Filipino president known for being hostile to the U.S.  Rear Adm. Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led the five-day visit of vessels including an anti-submarine ship and showcased what his country can offer to a Southeast Asian nation that’s long been a staunch American treaty ally.  “You can choose … to cooperate with United States of America or to cooperate with Russia,” Mikhailov told reporters through an interpreter at the Manila harbor after a welcoming ceremony. “But from our side we can help you in every way that you need.”  Read more . . .

Israeli Study Suggests Media May Worsen Effects of PTSD
A firm belief that external forces govern one’s life events and poor control over media consumption may worsen the effects of trauma exposure on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during a period of national trauma, according to a new Bar-Ilan University study.  The study, recently published in Psychiatry Research, examined PTSD symptoms among nearly 1,300 adult Israeli civilians exposed to missile attacks during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two years ago.   Read more . . .

PTSD Support Veterans

PTSD Study Could Lead to Improved Patient Outcomes
Last month, researchers announced the findings of a three-year study of the cognitive processing therapy at Fort Hood, and the results could transform how PTSD is treated on military installations. In the largest study ever of an evidence-based treatment for PTSD among active-duty military personnel, 40 to 50 percent of soldiers showed recovery from PTSD after 12 sessions of talk therapy, results that held up in six-month follow-ups, according to soldiers’ scores on specialized PTSD testing. The results were better for soldiers who received individual treatment as opposed to group treatment. The need for a better PTSD treatment is great: A recent Rand Corporation study found recovery rates of less than 20 percent for active-duty soldiers who sought treatment. And the use of prescription drugs to treat veterans with PTSD has had fatal consequences. A 2012 American-Statesman investigation of Texas combat veterans who died after returning home found that more than one-third of those diagnosed with PTSD died of an overdose, often due to pharmaceuticals.  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 becoming a member of Stand For The Troops

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Please Pick Up the Phone at the Suicide Crisis Center

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It is fashionable these days to pick on people or institutions that promote a “political” agenda.  Mind you, there are plenty of targets worthy of scorn and outrage, but righteous indignation and self-promotion discourages meaningful dialogue.

As a 501 (c)3 non-political educational foundation, Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) often focuses on the shortcomings of military and political institutions that fail to meet their obligations to support military personnel and Veterans.

In particular, SFTT has been most critical of the level of care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) to Veterans.  We get no pleasure in citing the many shortcomings of the VA, but it seems like every day one scandal or another emerges which captures national attention.

A few days ago, we learned that the VA’s “Crisis Line” to prevent Veteran suicides appeared to be woefully unresponsive:

An insider memo newly uncovered by the Associated Press indicates that more than one-third of calls to the national suicide hotline for troubled veterans are not being answered by front-line staffers because of poor work habits and other problems at the VA.

This follows an Inspector General Report in February which cited numerous problems in the Crisis Line now managed by the VA.

It is interesting to note that a little over a year ago the DoD suspended funding for a Veteran Suicide Hotline run by Vets4Warriors, to centralize the function within the VA.

Priggee Cartoon from Denver Post

Reading the IG’s report and recent disclosures that Veterans in crisis are underserved by the VA, this decision to close down an effective and privately-run Veteran Suicide Hotline now doesn’t seem to be a great idea.

Frankly, I am tired of listening to President Obama (or any other President for that matter) state that “I don’t want to in any way pretend that we are where we need to be,”  after having increased the VA budget by 85% during his presidency.

Any sane citizen would simply conclude that we are simply wasting valuable resources within the VA that could be more efficiently deployed to provide Veterans with support and treatment that might make some difference in their lives.  Let’s face it:  If VA employees at Crisis Centers don’t pick up the phone or respond to text messages, then no amount of money is going to solve the problem.

The VA appears to be a broken institution that has simply lost its way. It is hard to conceive of a more responsive and efficient VA, with the likes of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, seemingly more interested in defending the status quo of his constituency rather than encourage radical reform in a bloated bureaucracy.

The battle lines have been drawn and it is difficult to see how Veterans – who don’t seem to have much of a voice in the final outcome – will receive better treatment and care from an institution that is reeling out of control.

The VA has strayed far from its mission to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “’To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

va_payroll

More to the point, the Department of Veterans Affairs has effectively disavowed its five core values that “underscore” the VA’s mission: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.

Integrity: Act with high moral principle. Adhere to the highest professional standards. Maintain the trust and confidence of all with whom I engage.

Commitment: Work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries. Be driven by an earnest belief in VA’s mission. Fulfill my individual responsibilities and organizational responsibilities.

Advocacy: Be truly Veteran-centric by identifying, fully considering, and appropriately advancing the interests of Veterans and other beneficiaries.

Respect: Treat all those I serve and with whom I work with dignity and respect. Show respect to earn it.

Excellence: Strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. Be thoughtful and decisive in leadership, accountable for my actions, willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them.

The VA’s “core values” are simply words that appear to have little in common with the “dignity and respect” we should show our Veterans.   How sad!  More importantly, how tragic it is that little will be done to restore today’s VA to an institution that we can all admire and respect.

President Lincoln’s “promise” is little more than a soundbite at a political rally.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Sep 30, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

President Obama Faces Tough Questions from Military and Veterans
Obama was at this Army base near Richmond to take part in a military-focused special that aired Wednesday night on CNN. The cable network selected questioners who were respectful but who reflected a military population that is more conservative than the population as a whole and generally skeptical of the president’s performance as commander in chief over the past eight years.  Read more . . .

U.S. Military Readiness Questioned
Four of America’s top military officers recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on long-term budget challenges facing the military. While the hearing didn’t grab many headlines, some of the statements from these leaders should make all Americans concerned about the status of our military. Ultimately, these four officers (the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force, the chief of naval operations, and the commandant of the Marine Corps) stressed the dire and potentially deadly effects of inadequate funding on military readiness.  Read more . . .

VA Suicide Hot Line

A Third of Calls to Veteran Suicide Hotline Don’t Get Answered
More than a third of calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide hotline aren’t being answered by front-line staffers because of poor work habits and other problems, according to the hotline’s former director.  Some hotline workers handle fewer than five calls per day and leave before their shifts end, even as crisis calls have increased sharply in recent years, said Greg Hughes, the former director of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line.  Read more . . .

Privatization of Some VA Programs Becomes Election Issue
A key Democrat wants to bring the presidential campaign fight over veterans health care to the House floor, offering a resolution Wednesday that opposes the privatization of Veterans Affairs programs.  Republicans counter that department health systems are overburdened and unable to meet veterans’ needs, and proposals to expand health care choices for veterans in no way represent privatizing the department.  Read more . . .

Military Funding and Pay Raises Still on Congressional Agenda
After months of debate, Congress was unable to pass an annual budget on time and came within days this week of a government shutdown – and potential troop pay freeze – due to a dispute over emergency funds for the Flint, Michigan water crisis. A deal on money for Flint allowed lawmakers to pass the temporary budget, called a continuing resolution, and it set up another potential last-minute showdown over a final defense budget and other difficult military issues in November and December.  Read more . . .

Studies Suggest that Concussions May Lead to PTSD
Studies of troops who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have found that service members who have suffered a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury are far more likely to develop PTSD, a condition that can cause flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety for years after a traumatic event.  And research on both people and animals suggests the reason is that a brain injury can disrupt circuits that normally dampen the response to a frightening event. The result is like “driving a car and the brake’s not fully functioning,” says Mingxiong Huang, a biomedical physicist at the University of California, San Diego.  Read more . . .

U.S. on Verge of Ending Talks with Russia over War in Syria
Speaking at the Atlantic Council think-tank on Thursday, John Kerry (Secretary of State) said that the US is “on the verge of suspending the discussion because it’s irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place”. He said the US has no indication of Russia’s “seriousness of purpose” and discussions made no sense at a time when Russian and Syrian warplanes were bombing rebel-held areas of Syria’s second largest city.  Read more . . .

special forces

U.S. to Send 600 More Troops in Preparation to Retake Mosul
The United States will send around 600 new troops to Iraq to assist local forces in the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State that is expected later this year, U.S. and Iraqi officials said on Wednesday.  The new deployment is the third such boost in U.S. troop levels in Iraq since April, underscoring the difficulties President Barack Obama has had in extracting the U.S. military from the country.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement that his government asked for more U.S. military trainers and advisers. Obama called it a “somber decision.”  Read more . . .

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

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SFTT News: Week Ending July 8, 2016

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

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

President Obama Says 8400 Troops to Remain in Afghanistan
President Barack Obama gave up Wednesday on ending the war in Afghanistan during his term in office and said that at least 8.400 U.S. troops will still be on the ground for the next occupant of the White House to command.  With the Taliban resurgent under a new leader, and the Afghan army struggling to make headway, Obama bowed to the recommendations of his generals to shore up the Kabul government with a continuing U.S. and NATO presence along with billions in additional funding.  Read more . . .

President Barack Obama

 Veteran Daily Suicide Rate Now at 20
On average, 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014, a slight decrease from the previous government estimate, but federal health officials are cautious about concluding the suicide problem is getting better.  Rather, they say the Department of Veterans Affairs is relying on a more comprehensive database than ever before, making comparisons to prior studies difficult and possibly offering a truer snapshot than what was captured in the past.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Corrects Statement on VA Wait Times
Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday took an “opportunity to correct” a comparison he made of the long wait for medical care at his agency’s facilities to lines at Disneyland. “If I was misunderstood, if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to correct it,” he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I’m only focused on one thing, and that’s better caring for veterans. That’s my job, that’s why I’m here.”  Read more . . .

Nato Repercussions from Brexit
The dominant vibe in Warsaw is all about unity. The results are mostly pre-cooked. And there should be few surprises. With little dissent to speak of, in the next couple days NATO is expected to beef up its forces in its vulnerable frontline states in the east; forge closer ties with traditionally neutral Finland and Sweden; and upgrade the importance of cyber defense.  Read more . . .

Anemia Negatively Affects TBI Recovery
Approximately half of patients hospitalized with traumatic brain injuries are anemic, according to recent studies, but anemia’s effects on the recovery of these patients is not clear. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found evidence that anemia can negatively influence the outcomes of patients with traumatic brain injuries.  Read more . . .

Genetic Factors for Treating PTSD?
Individuals with trauma- and stress-related disorders can manifest symptoms of these conditions in a variety of ways. Genetic risk factors for these and other psychiatric disorders have been established but do not explain the diversity of symptoms seen in the clinic — why are some individuals affected more severely than others and why do some respond better than others to the same treatment?

DNA Research

“People often experience stress and anxiety symptoms, yet they don’t usually manifest to the degree that results in a clinical diagnosis,” says Allison T. Knoll, PhD, post-doctoral fellow at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “We felt that if we could understand differences in the severity of symptoms in a typical population, it might provide clues about clinical heterogeneity in patients.”   Read more . . .

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

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SFTT News: Week of May 27, 2016

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

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

Military Suicides:  Most Appear Before Combat
“We found the highest rates of suicide attempts were among never-deployed soldiers and those in their first years of service,” Ursano’s team (Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda) wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. Six months into a deployment is often when they get their first break. “That six-month time is usually the time most soldiers are taking a visit home,” Ursano said. “They are transitioning home and back again.”  It’s not precisely clear why suicide attempts — as opposed to completed suicides — go up at these times. Other research shows the risk for a completed suicide has little to do with whether someone has been in actual combat.  Read more . . .

VA Restores Benefits to Veterans Wrongly Declared Dead
A Florida congressman says the Department of Veterans Affairs cut off the benefits of more 4,200 people nationwide after they were wrongly declared dead.  Rep. David Jolly says these people were “very much alive” and their benefits were resumed after the VA looked into their cases, which happened between 2011 and 2015.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Compares Veteran Wait Times to Lines at Disneyworld 
Critics said Monday that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald had trivialized the long-standing problem of lengthy wait times for appointments at California’s veterans medical centers by comparing them to waiting in long lines at Disneyland. His comments sparked an angry backlash from California lawmakers who felt that he had dismissed the angst and frustration of their constituents. McDonald made the comments Monday during a roundtable discussion with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Robert McDonald

Five Things to Know about President Obama’s Trip to Vietnam
President Barack Obama is visiting Vietnam, the third U.S. president to do so, for a series of meetings with officials aimed at deepening U.S. ties with the country through new economic and security initiatives. The two governments are expected to announce a host of new agreements. Here are five things to know about Mr. Obama’s trip to the Asian nation.  Read more . . .

Dining with President Obama in Hanoi
Deep in the heart of Hanoi, US President Barack Obama sat down for a $6 meal with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Tuesday. The chef, known for his love of adventurous street food, described the occasion in a series of tweets and an Instagram post.  Read more . . .

Obama Bourdain Hanoi

Former Navy Seal Sheds Light on PTSD
First Sgt. Clint Castro spent 15 months on the front line as a medic in Iraq. When he came home to East Meadow, he faced another kind of battle against post-traumatic stress disorder. He says it led him to drink and lose his temper, and he isolated himself from his family. Castro turned to Northwell Health’s Rosen Family Wellness Center for help. He admits it wasn’t easy initially to ask for assistance.   Read more . . .

Treating Ukranian Veterans with PTSD with Service Dogs

The Coming Changes to the War in Afghanistan
U.S. officials on Monday justified the weekend drone strike that killed Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour by saying the Taliban leader planned to attack American or coalition forces in Afghanistan. But some observers believe the secretive operation that targeted the extremist at a southwest Pakistan hideout represents a shift in how the White House plans to execute the long-running war.  Read more . . .

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

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Rebuilding the VA One Bureaucrat at a Time

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“There are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job,'” according to J. K. Simmons in his riveting role as a jazz instructor in Whiplash.


President Obama and the VAWith all due respect, “good job” now must take back seat to “chipping away,” as President Obama declared in a recent visit to a VA facility in Phoenix. According to an article published in the Columbus Dispatch, President Obama declared that his new VA leadership is “chipping away at those problems.” Certainly the Government Accountability Office “GAO” and President Obama don’t seem to be reading from the same script as earlier reported by SFTT on veterans with severe depression:

10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

Frankly, Mr. President “chipping away” at the problems of the VA is simply no where near a “good job,” let alone “mission accomplished.”

Simplified Model to Fix the VA

While I have no intention of engaging in partisan “gotcha” games, some problems are simply too big to fix with a bureaucratic house-cleaning.  With 340,000 employees, the  VA seems managerially adrift and totally unresponsive to the needs of our brave Veterans.   Can it be “fixed” from within?  I doubt it.   Responsiveness to address the needs of our Veterans clearly seems to have taken backseat to a bureaucratic structure that is both self-serving and adrift from the needs of the constituents it is mandated to serve.

In these situations, it is generally best to segregate the organization into activities or functions that “work” from those that have manifest problems.  Sure, some Veteran support functions may not be “broken” and in those cases it might well to determine what resources are required to fix the problem – and, if adequate resources are allocated to borderline cases, will the desired outcome be acceptable.

These need not be a complicated exercise, but is certainly one which VA bureaucratic insiders will sabotage.  The following decision tree results:

  1. VA Functions that “Work”:  Staff appropriately and allocate resources to either enhance or maintain capabilities;
  2. VA Functions that “May be Viable”:   Determine what problematic functions are viable and invest, or eliminate;
  3. VA Functions that are “Not Viable as Presently Administered”:   Current VA activities that are not viable or cannot be fixed within the current VA structure should be eliminated and/or outsourced to the private sector.

Simply throwing more taxpayer money at an institution with a stunted bureaucratic hierarchy  makes absolutely no sense.   I can sense President Obama’s frustration, but sadly the chronic neglect of our brave Veterans requires more that “chipping away” political soundbites.

The “Choice Card” Thwarted by VA Bureaucrats

Lat summer with great fanfare, Congress passed emergency legislation designed to provide Veterans with emergency healthcare in the private sector if adequate service was not available from the VA.   In general, the “Choice Card” was provided to Veterans who were more than 40 miles from a VA facility, however, it now appears that the VA disqualified some 80% of those Veterans who applied for medical help from the private sector.

It is no wonder that the entrenched bureaucracy at the VA is fighting tooth-and-nail to avoid letting Veterans determine the care they wish to receive.   James Tuchschmidt of Concerned Veterans argues that:

“We are now entering a realm where we, quite frankly, are running a health plan, where the veteran, the patient, decides what happens to them, and where they go, and how they get care, and what care they get. And this is a huge cultural shake-up, quite frankly, for us as an organization.”

Will the VA allow this initiative to succeed?  I doubt it, unless both the President and Congress insist on VA leaders who are prepared to effect “real” change rather than administer the status quo which is largely broken and ineffective in dealing with the needs of our Veterans.

For those looking to find help near you, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINK to find Community Resource Centers near you.

 

 

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Obama’s Dictator is Better than Bush’s Dictator

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The Obama administration is once again immersed in a political tragedy in Egypt largely of its own making.  How it will play out is largely anyone’s guess, but President Obama seems destined to make the same silly mistakes in international diplomacy that have plagued previous administrations.  Mind you, his motives may be well-intended, but trying to be on the “right side of history” often leads to the blood of others to be shed.

Other than politicians who have no sense of irony, I find it ironic that the Obama administration and the accompanying media who seemed so enamored of the Twitter-fueled revolution that brought down President Mubarak  should now be seeking shelter in the embrace of yet another Egyptian military dictatorship.    Of course, we don’t want to call it a dictatorship and curtail aid, but it seems that this military dictatorship is preferable to the Obama administration than the Bush administration’s dictator.   Um….

While I don’t have a clue what is going on in Egypt – certainly anymore so than Tweety-bird Wolf Blitzer of CNN – I am quite familiar with dictatorships.   They aren’t fun.   Deciding on which dictator is better than another is a fool’s errand and best left to historians after the dust settles.   Didn’t we choose the better dictator  in Vietnam?

Clearly, the events in Egypt are a tragedy, but self-serving comments by the Obama administration that has stood-by while 100,000 people have died in Syria is sophomoric in its cynicism and hypocrisy.

Sure, let’s keep our troops at home.   But please!:   Let’s curb our penchant for meddling is situations we don’t understand and, most certainly, can’t influence.

Save the “tough talk” for the 200,000 or so veterans suffering from PTS who have fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.    These brave and often troubled young men and women certainly deserve our compassion.   More importantly, they happen to be living in the United States.

Richard W. May

STFF

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President Obama and VA Claims

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With great fanfare, President Obama “told a crowd of disabled veterans on Saturday that his administration has made headway with efforts to battle a longstanding backlog of disability claims.”

As reported in the Washingon Post, “’Today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we’re making progress,’” Obama said during a speech at a Disabled American Veterans’ convention in Orlando. “’In the last five months alone, it’s down nearly 20 percent.  We’re turning the tide.’”

If true, this is very good news indeed, but one needs to be rather skeptical if only recently the VA reversed course on Agent Orange disability claims from the Vietnam War.   Editor’s Note: That’s a hell of a VA backlog for a war that ended over 40 years ago.

Our research suggests that many of the 200,000 plus veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress have been misdiagnosed by the VA, received inadequate treatment, prescribed a cocktail of dangerous drugs or simply been ignored.

While I have no problem with the President taking credit for a statistical drop in the backlog of veterans seeking VA support, who is accountable to the tens of thousands of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are jobless, often homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol while they cope with the disabling consequences of PTS?

Personally, I would like the President to address the chronic problems faced by the many brave men and women who have served in harm’s way and not received the promised support they merit.   Brave leaders address the troops directly rather than stand behind a pulpit for a staged political event.

Sharing in the suffering of our brave warriors is now even more important the lauding their success.

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Military News Highlights: December 16 & 17

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Uncertainty marks White House review on Afghanistan, Pakistan

In regards to the highly touted release of the administrations review of Afghanistan, one-step up and two-steps back. 

 One-step up, “strategy is showing progress”; two-steps back, no new information on how soon Afghan Security Forces will be able to assume responsibility for security and when the “rat-lines” coming out of Pakistan can be severed.

 One-step up, “we are on track to achieve our goals”; two-steps back, gains are still “fragile and reversible” and the size of the July 2011 drawdown is unknown.

 One-step up, “COIN is working”; two-steps back, but we can’t truly measure its progress until late Spring 2011, which may shift the strategy to pure-kinetic counter-terrorism. 

Oh, and the word “corruption” is only mentioned once in the report.  Two-steps back. 

While the report mentions six times in the sparse five-page summary/report that success hinges on Pakistan shutting down its borders and “safe havens.”  Two-steps back. 

The official White House report summary can be read here:

 A summary of how the report exposes a split over Afganistan pullout timelines can be read here:

Key highlights:

  •  Already, parts of the country with fewer troops are showing a deterioration of security, and the gains that have been made were hard won, coming at the cost of third more casualties among NATO forces this year.
  • Then there are the starkly different timelines being used in Washington and on the ground. President Obama is on a political timetable, needing to assure a restless public and his political base that a withdrawal is on track to begin by the deadline he set of next summer and that he can show measurable success before the next election cycle.
  • Afghanistan and the American military, are running on a different clock, based on more intractable realities. Some of the most stubborn and important scourges they face — ineffectual governance, deep-rooted corruption and the lack of a functioning judicial system — the report barely glanced at.
  • A fundamental conundrum, unmentioned in the report, is that the United States and its NATO allies constantly speak of Mr. Karzai and his government as an ally and a partner and try to shore up his image as the leader of his people. Yet many Afghans view his government as a cabal of strongmen, who enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the country.
  • Also largely glossed over in the report is the extent and implications of pervasive corruption. Bribery and nepotism remain a feature of daily life for the vast majority of Afghans, and nowhere is it more clear than in the judicial system.
  • The elephant in the room is that whatever the trajectory of the war, the Afghan government does not envision a defeat of the Taliban, but a negotiated peace. Unmentioned in the report is what the Americans may be looking for in such a deal, and what they are willing to do to bring that peace.

A summary of what the White House report on the Afghanistan War didn’t mention or highlight can be read

Key highlights:

  • State Department diplomats have complained that President Hamid Karzai has been an unreliable ally. Political resolution is key, but the review’s language on governance questions and on the shape of an Afghan “end-state” is vague.
  • Coalition support has helped the Afghan army meet its targets in terms of troop buildup. The Afghan force quality is a mixed bag. The majority of Afghan soldiers lack basic skills, including literacy. Preparing the Afghan army and police to be capable of providing security as Western troops depart has become an increasing focus of coalition efforts but remains a challenge.
  • The administration’s review summary highlights NATO’s “enduring commitment beyond 2014,” yet it’s clear that European leaders face considerable political pressure back home to withdraw, and only Britain has a sizable number of troops on the ground. As a result, the war is becoming increasingly Americanized. On Thursday, Germany’s foreign minister confirmed that country’s intention to begin withdrawing its 4,600 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
  • The review summary devotes considerable attention to the problem of AQ and Taliban leaders finding a safe haven across the board in Pakistan.  The document calls for greater cooperation with Pakistan but is short on specifics about how to get there. Pakistan clearly has ambivalent feelings about the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. It doesn’t want Western forces to leave behind a mess in its backyard, but at the same time it doesn’t trust the government in Afghanistan.
  • The review summary highlights “significant progress” in disrupting al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan. “Al-Qaida’s senior leadership has been depleted, the group’s safe haven is smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been degraded in important ways,” it states. The war’s initial aim of driving al-Qaida from Afghanistan has also largely been successful. Yet al-Qaida remains a mobile threat, and it’s unlikely the U.S. can readily muster 100,000 more troops to chase it outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Ratlines’ threaten White House Afghan war plans

While US troops logistics and lines of communications are held hostage to: the tyranny of terrain, the necessity of maintaining logistic hubs in a very inhospitable nature of Pakistan (and now the end around the bordering “stans”), the growing contractor base of support, and the necessity of pushing supplies to forward combat outposts and patrols.  It appears that the insurgency has little trouble maintaining their flow of supplies and refitting at their leisure while ensconced in Pakistan (and in controlled Taliban areas within Afghnistan, i.e. anywhere outside of Kabul, Kandahar, and Khost). 

The border with Pakistan remains porous and US/NATO/Afghan efforts to seal the flow of supplies “threaten Afghan war plans.”   Practically speaking we should dissuade ourselves from thinking that there are “safe havens” per se – a clearly marked area or region – in fact the entire country of Pakistan is a safe haven for the Taliban, AQ, and their confederates (i.e Haqqani and Hekmatyar network). 

Ultimately that is the root of the problem and one without a solution.

U.S. Army Modernization Review Set for Dec. 22

“Here we go again, same old stuff again.  Marching down the avenue…”  Next week senior Army leaders will conduct a modernization review to determine the future of weapon and equipment systems.  Called the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) equipment set, it was originally developed as part of the whiz-bang, bells-and-whistles Future Combat Systems (FCS) program which thankfully Secretary of Defense Gates ended.  But here we go again, marching back up that avenue to see if the Army can get some of the FCS components and systems approved for further development and tactical issue.  The question Undersecretary Ashton Carter should ask is, “would any of these equipment sets and systems, if deployed tomorrow to a Soldier in Afghanistan, and given the costs required to field them, improve his/her force protection while defeating the threat he/she faces?”  It’s a simple standard, because what Joe needs right now, this very moment, is equipment and small-arms that will increase his force protection posture while providing him a dead-certain lethality.  If the “Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit can’t meet this standard, then don’t waste the money, time, industrial base, or organizational energy that is being put into the E-IBCT.

Yearly Price Tab for Afghan Forces: $6 Billion, Indefinitely

Speaking of guns and butter, the waiter serving security in the outdoor cafes of Kabul, Kandarhar, and Khost just gave Uncle Sam the tab for training and equipping Afghan security forces — $6 Billion annually – indefinitely.   No problem, we’ll pay with a Chinese credit card.

Unused in Afghanistan, Longbow Deliveries Continue

The vaunted “Longbow” didn’t help the 11th Aviation Regiment in support of the 3rd Infantry Division’s fight north in OIF I, yet we still are procuring the system and deploying it to Afghanistan where it is not being put to use.  Great investment.  Great idea.

 

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Military News Highlights: December 8, 2010

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Petraeus’ negative tone at odds with Obama’s optimism

The overall commander on the ground in Afghanistan is saying one thing on the lack of overall progress of the war, while the commander-in-chief and Pentagon officials trumpet a “more optimistic message”.  But the tactical and operational commanders on the ground are telling the blunt truth on the situation.  Grunts don’t like mixed messages, which is what they are getting.  Grunts especially don’t like when senior commanders hedge when they say, “no commander ever is going to come out and say, I’m confident that we can do this…I don’t think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor”, which is what General Petraeus told ABC News this week.  What grunts do appreciate is when tactical and operational commanders are forthright, like Major General John Campbell who realizes the futility of their “endeavors”.   He is candid when he states that while his troops were making progress, “a lot of the reason we get attacked is because we’re up here.” “People don’t want us up there, but they don’t want the Taliban either,” he said. “They want to be left alone.”  He added that the region was vast and that his forces could not be everywhere. “We can’t be in every single valley; I mean there’s thousands of them out there, we just can’t do it,” he said.

Video thought to show American held in Afghanistan

In the din and bustle of the daily news stream that flows out of Afghanistan, we cannot forget that there is an American missing in action, and hopefully this recent and new video of Specialist Bowe Bergdahl is proof that he remains a Taliban captive.

Afghanistan war: why IEDs are taking a mounting toll

Why are we are losing the IED fight in Afghanistan?  Basically, very little to no local population support.  When you read the Christian Science Monitor report, keep in mind that in a July USA Today interview Lieutenant General Oates, Director of JIEDDO informed that the public that by the end of this year there will be a drop in IED’s.

General sees IED drop by year’s end

A drop.  That’s right, a drop by the end of December 2010.  Well actually, there has been a categorical increase.  Oates blames an Taliban surge.  Simply clueless.  Period. And regardless of the rudimentary technology and methods employed, IED’s remain the number one killer on the battlefield.  I wonder if IED data will be used as a metric to gauge the progress of the war during the ongoing Afghanistan war strategy review.

Troops Re-doubling Advise, Assist Efforts in Iraq

Lest we forget the grind continues in Iraq for our 50,000 troops still deployed.  Here is an update on the ongoing plan to “assist and advise” while troops transition to an Iraqi and State Department lead.   Oh, and morale remains “high”.

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